My friend was in his element the other day. No probing was needed; he was spilling his story out in no time, ‘You know what Gita, my friend and I had this bet on whom had more branded items...Guess what! I won!!Ha!! By one..! I had thirty one and he had just thirty! Wow isn’t it???’ Erm...wow? I was blank. I looked at my friend. I knew he was a brand freak, but only then did I fully appreciate how much- Casio watch, Fast track coolers, Levi’s jeans, Peter England shirt, Reebok shoes, Nike socks, an Adidas bag with a HP laptop, NokianN95, oh and throw in a Pierre Cardin pen...God knows what else made up the list! Actually, it was wow! I now looked at myself. Junk jewellery on my wrists and ears carefully picked off various vendors. One ethnic jute bag. Jute sandals from fountain plaza. My favourite mix-n-match salwar. Wow again!
I have never really liked the idea of shelling out a large chunk of my pocket money to buy something that I was most likely to be stuck with for a long time. Instead of one sandal from Metro, I prefer buying five from little shops that we have discovered through the years. Variety! I remember once my brother went without movies and outings for two whole months to save cash for a pair of Adidas trainers. Until I told him this. In the mid- 1990’s, in Bronx, a group of 13 year olds learned that the Nike trainers they bought for $180 actually cost $5 to make, and this led to a mass dumping of their old trainers outside New York’s Nike town.
What exactly is a brand? A brand is the reputation of the firm. It is a logo that acts as a short hand form of the company. It is a personality and a promise. And eventually it becomes a relationship between you and itself. It is something that you identify yourself with, and it becomes a part of you. Why do people blindly wash down gallons of Coke and Pepsi when they fully know that it is made up of potentially toxic substances? It is because the brand has grown on them.
But all this at what cost? In 1992, Nike paid Michael Jordan $20 million to endorse its trainers. This was more than what it paid its 30,000 strong workforce in Indonesia to make them. Women in Cavite, the largest trade free zone in Philippines, who sewed clothes for companies like GAP, have rules against talking and smiling. Toilets are kept padlocked except during two fifteen minute breaks a day. Seamstresses sewing clothes for high end western companies were forced to urinate in plastic bags they kept under their sewing machines. Guess, Mattel and Disney goods were exposed to be manufactured illegally by child labourers in Honduras. An Indonesian Nike worker is paid $2 a day to make trainers that sell for $120 in San Francisco Nike town. The CEO of Disney, Robert Iger is paid $9,783 an hour. Compare that to the salary of a Haitian worker who stitches Disney Merchandise, for 28 cents an hour!
These brands have strived hard to achieve this name for themselves. It is easier to retain their existing, faithful customer base than to create new customers. Faithful customers who either have enough cash to throw away on expensive merchandise, or others who scrape and save to buy themselves one, for the ‘cool’ look. Knowledge is a powerful tool! Deciding is something that is individualistic. But spreading the word is the least we can do! For the sake of all the labourers in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, the Philippines and other corners of the earth. For the sake of women like Carmelita Alonzo who sewed clothes for GAP and Liz Claiborne, who died of pneumonia because she was denied time off from work. For the sake of humanity.
This is something I wrote for my college paper, sometime last year. It earned a brilliant review then. I found it in my mailbox, and felt like a post :)