When clothing brands profit from your grief

Published: September 18, 2018

Clothing brands, albeit subtly, make sure they launch their black collection as the month of Muharram nears.

In this capitalist world, everything is for sale. Every season, every holiday, every occasion can be commercialised. Christmas Day sales, Black Friday, Thanksgiving sales, Diwali discounts, Eid collections; you name anything and there will always be a person making money off of it.

In Pakistan, Eid and Ramazan are probably the most celebrated occasions, no surprises there since this country is the Islamic Republic after all. As soon as the month of Ramazan closes in, prices of food elevate to another level. From your fruit vendor to your butcher, everyone demands more money. And then there are of course those gazillion iftar and sehri deals.

This carries on to Eid, when clothing brands start releasing their ‘never-seen-before’ Eid collections. However, all of this, as unfeasible as it is for the consumers, makes sense overall because of the celebratory nature of these festivals. However, what doesn’t make sense is when this ‘collection craze’ makes its way into the month of mourning.

As Bari Eid season ends, the Islamic calendar sees a new beginning. Muharramul Haram marks the beginning of the Islamic New Year; however, it also reminds us of a great sacrifice. Around the world, the Shia sect mourns the loss of the Prophet’s (pbuh) family almost 1400 years ago. It is a month to remember them and their sacrifice to save Islam.

When we think about Muharram, we picture people wearing black clothes; the colour for us is symbolic of grief and simplicity. However, what we do not think of is people making money off of someone’s grief. Unfortunately, Muharram collections have now become a trend. Clothing brands, albeit subtly, make sure they launch their ‘black collection’ as the month of Muharram nears. They of course don’t blatantly label it as made for Muharram, but the timing and the colour does make one wonder about the connection. And unsurprisingly, we fall into their trap and buy from them, encouraging them to do the same thing next year.

Not only are these collections launched, they are properly advertised on billboards and in magazines, and even have separate racks in stores. Since there is a certain demand for these clothes, brands make sure they are profiting from this by raising their prices.

As a Shia, I do see the necessity of having black clothes for Muharram to be worn throughout the period and specifically for majlis. However, buying them as a sheer necessity is different than buying it exclusively from designers or brands for the sake of looking different and being the best in the gathering.

The whole purpose of the sacrifice made by Imam Hussain (ra) and his family was to promote simplicity, innocence and brotherhood; however, I feel the whole essence of Muharram is somehow lost now.

We like to think of black clothes as a dress code for majlis. The idea was never to show off any extravagant clothing and dressing, in fact it is to learn the lesson of sacrifice and generosity, to help the needy, oppressed and people in pain. It’s actually a protest against the brutal massacre of the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandson and his family. Indulging in this commercialisation seems disrespectful to the concept of mourning.

As women, I believe one of the greatest sacrifices for us is to give up our desire for materialism (clothes) but, unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. The events of Karbala should have been a lesson for us and encouraged us to be better people, however, these brand collections have diverted our minds and faith somewhere else now.

Such concept of brands launching Muharram collections was never witnessed before, the maximum one would do in dire need of clothes was to go to Aashiyana and buy simple black material to get it stitched. However, now we see fully embroidered shirt collections, in different designs and there are even ones with chiffon dupattas.

While I agree that brands have to cater to the needs of their customers, I still believe there must be a certain code that should be followed in order to give respect to these days. These days are to mourn the loss and should not be treated as a festival.

‘To each, their own’ is a concept that should generally be practiced, but I feel that if these brands were a bit more respectful, we need not have a problem with this. Instead of launching black clothes as a collection and advertising them endlessly before Muharram, they could just simply put them on racks, just like other clothes, for people who would need them. And instead of pricing them such that one has to sell a kidney to buy them, they could price them a little more feasibly, so it does not feel like they are feasting off of this month. Moreover, to preserve the essence of this holy month, they could perhaps refrain from lavishly designing their black collection and maybe take a simpler approach.

As consumers, we too have certain responsibilities and are equally to be blamed. All of us must maintain and serve a sense of responsibility towards this sacred month, where we must try and kill our worldly desires and think of the huge sacrifices that were made for Islam in the event of Karbala. If today we have started accepting this, tomorrow we might end up doing a lot of things which would affect the sanctity of this month, hence, we must sit and comprehend now until it’s too late.

Syeda Fizza Hasan Rizvi

Syeda Fizza Hasan Rizvi

The author is a graduate from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Writing has always been her passion.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.