Zurhem’s creative director on the evolution of the industry
The 2010’s fashion in Bangladesh can roughly be split into two phases – Before Zurhem, and After Zurhem. A bold proclamation? Certainly. But although the industry has seen a tremendous amount of growth, both in the case of established brands, and in the proliferation of new and upcoming brands, no single designer has had the kind of impact that Zurhem has. From establishing a home-grown status symbol, to turning each of their ramp events into the party everyone wants an invite for, to dominating the social media platforms with their daring content, Mehruz Munir and Saadat Chowdhury have not only changed the game, they’ve set the arena for the decade just gone by. With no small amount of prodding by yours truly, Avenue T managed to corner the brand’s Creative Director for a quick chat about Zurhem’s meteoric rise.
When you started out, did you see yourselves having this kind of impact?
Honestly, we did know that Zurhem had the potential to work in Bangladesh. We knew that there was no menswear luxury label existing the fashion scene at the time, and we also knew that among all the fast fashion brands in Bangladesh, ours would stand out. We were very clear about the direction we wanted to take Zurhem and our marketing strategies were decided from day one. But we didn’t realise to what extent the brand would gain recognition. When found Zurhem struggling to cope with orders in our first month, it finally hit us that we underestimated our market.
Other than the success and brand recognition, what was the most surprising aspect of your experience?
We think we were most surprised when we noticed that we no longer needed to introduce ourselves all that much. Haha!
Given the fact that fashion, globally, is currently under scrutiny for issues related to labour relations and carbon footprint, where do you see the industry ten years from now?
Bangladesh has gained a reputation for mass production and fast fashion. The impact of churning out millions of garments at low prices, under poor working conditions, with little to no consideration for our environment is now being felt worldwide. Fast fashion is on its way out and more and more people around the world (especially millennials) now want good quality products that are ethically produced, put less impact on the environment and that they can wear for a longer period of time. This movement is already hugely affecting the garments industry. Hundreds of factories are closing down every month. Soon, a lot of these fast fashion brands that we see around us will have to move towards sustainability if they still want to remain in business.
Where does Zurhem fit into this vision?
There are a few brands in Bangladesh that are already working with sustainable materials, maintaining work environments that are safe for their employees. Unfortunately not a lot of the customers in Bangladesh understand the importance of sustainability and ethical work environment. Hopefully they will soon! We have already been working on improving our carbon footprint and we have pledged to minimise the use of plastic while manufacturing our products by 2020. We also plan to offer a permanent line of sustainable products that our clients can purchase, and finally we wish to educate our clients about the impact of abusing our planet and how they can actively take part in reducing the damage.
Zurhem is no longer limited to menswear, and your women’s clothing line has also been immensely successful. You recently got to design something for to represent us on an international platform. Could you share your experience of creating Shirin Akter Shela's evening gown?
It has been a beautiful process in general. Shela participated in our last fashion show and the first day I met her, I told her she is a quintessential pageant girl. The gown was inspired by Sylhet’s tea gardens and the tea-pickers who rarely get any recognition for their hard work. When I sat down to design the gown, I wanted to embody all that and keep the silhouette very classic, elegant, yet have a wow factor. I was very happy to see how she finally performed at the Miss Universe contest and she represented our country so well.