From Pick ‘n Pay to Prada – every brand represents a social ideal, a social association. Are we taking this too far?
It’s obvious that South Africans have become infatuated with the Western way of life – we rigorously follow their every step through watching their celebrities, their TV Series and even their news programmes. Is this taking its toll on our people?
Our obsession with the international celebrity has created a brand-obsessed, image-driven society that strives to fulfill the social demands of a public image of perfection. Celebrities have instilled this idealized notion of perfection – we must have the expensive cars, the branded clothes, the Louis Vuitton handbag and let’s not forget the flawless face. Unfortunately, we have been brainwashed by the Madison Avenue Moguls of America and even a recession didn’t stop our obsession with consumerism.
So what’s with the brand?
Looking at it from an international perspective, Radha Chadha and Paul Husband claim that “ninety-four percent of young Tokyo women [in their 20’s], own a Louis Vuitton, despite the fact that such a purchase is often disproportionate to their income”. So if you can’t afford it; why buy it?
I was privileged to go to a private school and I now attend the best university in the country; and it has been through my years at these institutions that this “brand obsession” has become vividly clear. Even I (though I hate to admit so myself) notice a good brand from a bad one and I find I’m having to convince myself why I shouldn’t follow the insignificant trends of the people around me. Trends such as the All Star Converse shoe, the Jack Wills jumper, the Cath Kidston handbag, the Bensimons tennis shoe, or the Ray Ban sunglasses are subtly prominent among the young and stylish. Brands such as Abercrombie & fitch, Urban, Aca Joe , Lou Harvey, Superga, Nike, Trenery etc – are forever in our faces, therefore forever (subconsciously) pressurising us to consume them.
My friend and I were talking about this the other day, and she mentioned something to me: people wear branded clothes because it shows that you can afford something, without you having to tell people that you have the money. Brands brand you: you are the brand you wear. The power of the brand is so intense that we depend on it to give us permission to have the self confidence that we need in society. Our identity crisis has been fed by the brand obsession and our only sense of control is through greater consumerism. So are we essentially feeding the fire? Yes and no.
No, because buying an expensive item of clothing does not mean that you intend to wear it for the “brand” purpose; you may simply like the cut or the quality. In fact – I use a Country Road tote bag for Lectures and whilst the Country Road brand is one that is considered to be to a certain extent ‘snobby’, the quality is outstanding. I bash my bag on steps, I carry my brick-thick laptop in it, I have used it as my umbrella – it is well worth the R400 I spent on it and I couldn’t care less if it was from PEP or Pick ‘n Pay. A good bag is a good bag.
So whether you buy an item because of the ‘brand’ or because of the quality: ask yourself this – “who am I doing this for?”. I guess what they say is true, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.