Monday, April 8, 2019

Check That Clothing Label

Clothing for sale. You see it everywhere here in Dhaka. Clothes are in brightly lit western style shops. There are vendors with tables on most streets and on flat back rickshaws. There are popup stalls on dirt paths and along walking trails and in massive packs being shouldered around town by smiling and sweating local. Clothes, clothes and more clothes everywhere. Now,  I am not talking crap clothing stitched together with low end material. This is top end, certified brand name clothing made with quality material. Go through your wardrobe and check the "made in" tags. I am guessing you will find China, maybe Vietnam and Mexico. What you might be shocked to find is how much of your clothing is made in Bangladesh.

This industry and the products that are produced are a massive source of pride. Any Bangladeshi will comment, if asked, about the quality of the clothing that you have just purchased. On any subject most are polite and reserved, almost lacking a gene to say anything disparaging. However, broach the subject of clothing and material and all bets are off. "That material, I would not have bought that shirt". "Next time you ask me and I will take you to a good place". Everyone seems to know someone or someplace that has the best clothing at the cheapest prices.

The clothing manufacturing sector is massive. I can usually by excellent quality, top brand name clothing for about 25% of the price in the west. The Bangladeshi take this seriously. When I take my shirts to be ironed the guy will tell me weather the material is good or bad quality and always suggests I he will take me shopping.

Conditions in these factories are less than stellar regardless of what Tommy Hilfiger, GAP, George, Lee, Zara or American Eagle press release about. Sure they set standards and then they outsource the management of these factories to local companies who absolutely ignore what they are told. The Western companies feel exonerated because "we did everything we could", but they know what's going on. We in the west do not pay attention or care when we pick up that new shirt or pair of pants. Be sure, the issues are real, the people are poorly paid and treated worse than dogs and western labels keep growing profits.

My two friends from the Ironing shop
I have bought from the cart a few times.
Sir, Do you need a saree?
Shawn catching some nap time before our ride home
Raw Nation Clothing ShopArtisan, my personal favorite

Nothing exemplifies this more than the 2013 Savar Building collapse that killed over 1,100 workers. The building contained clothing factories, a bank, apartments, and several shops. "The shops and the bank on the lower floors were immediately closed after cracks were discovered in the building. The building's owners ignored warnings to avoid using the building after cracks had appeared the day before. Garment workers were ordered to return the following day, and the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour". -- Wikipedia

There are nice clothing stores, my personal favorite being Artisan. You can find clothing at every market, upscale and back alley. There are clothing stalls on street corners and along river paths and finally pop up stalls randomly appearing everywhere. The options are limitless here.

The thing is, when you look at a real nice "upscale shop" logic dictates not to shop there. It will be too expensive when I have other options. Well sir,\ that is not the case. The clothing is a bit more expensive but it is minimal. The shop is usually bright, the staff helpful and alterations are free. Yes, there are change rooms. As an example, I purchased a real nice shirt at Artisan for 700 Taka (C$11). I tried it on and I love it. One night I bought a shirt from a random street vendor for 400 Taka (C$6.50). It was a Tommy Hilfiger XL. I am not a fan of the brand but the material was great and size was good. That is until I tried it on at home. It was XL for a 10 year old. Obviously a flawed shirt from the factory. It is not always the case because I have purchased a few good shirts off the street. My point is, for the extra 2 or 3 dollars it's nice to go into a shop. Seriously, good quality real (no knock off) brand name shirts are $11.

A clothing vendor. Not very busy on a Friday
A nice clothing shop in the Korail Basti slum
Street shops in the Korail Basti slum
A clothing vendor and street tailor outside the Wari School
A mom and daughter just hanging out
A nice shop where I bought a Pierre Cardin Shirt. I feel dirty

For the girls out there, there are shoes and purses (yes that was a sexist comment, get over it). Do you buy knock off handbags? Well you can get the real deal here with authentication certificates...which may or may not be forged. 😳😳😳😳. Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermes, Chanel are all alive and stocked in every nice shop...for about $40. Yes, I am thinking of buying 10 of them the next time I return to Canada. I will sell them on eBay and pay for my trip. I guess the only thing is to have an answer ready for Canadian Immigration as to why I have 10 high end purses. I will need a list of woman in my life with phone numbers as these will be gifts for all of you. Remember this is Bangladesh and not Rodeo Drive. For every nice shop on one corner there are kids picking through garbage on the next corner.

There are quite a few spin off industries with all this clothing around. On-site, or should I say "on-street tailoring, laundry and ironing services are everywhere. I wash my own shirts but  then take them to a shop a few blocks away. They iron my shirts and pants for 10 Taka each (C$0.15). I never ask for rush service and they are usually ready in 24 hours. Pressed, folded and safely bagged. The two guys at the shop love to try and talk English and I am always greeted with a loud "It's Canada".

I have lost a bit of weigh and needed my jorts taken in. Across the street from the Ironing shop, on the street corner is a guy with a sewing machine. Using broken English, hand signs and pinching the pants about an inch he figured out what I wanted. The shorts were taken in by the time I walked across the street, picked up my ironing, chatted with the lads and returned. 25 Taka.

There are shoe repair guys squatting on the sidewalks in various locations. I have to tell you that they do a great job. I bought a new pair of shoes from the outlet in Niagara Falls and they were not cheap. As you may or may not know I buy most of my clothing second hand, or vintage if it needs a label. However, shoes are where I do not cheap out. Well these "quality" shoes started losing their sole about 3 weeks after I purchased them. The sole completed removed itself from my right shoe on my third day here. I had my Havianas to get me through as I had not started work yet. Shawn, one of our drivers took my shoe to a local street guy and it came back better quality than when I bought it. A new slim layer was added to my shoe and the sole reattached, glued and stitched. It was so good I gave him my good shoe and had it "redesigned" like the new repaired shoe.

I laughed with my sister Kelly when I told her that I had to move to Bangladesh to start buying good new clothes. I think she stopped listening and started drooling when I told her about the high end bags and purses. I cannot believe I am actually going to walk into a shop and buy a Prada or Luis Vuitton bag. With all due respect to Neil Young. My life changing in so many ways.  

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