As one walks around the streets of East Ham and its environs, one notices that its locals are dressed in a manner expressive of the “cultural clusters” to which they happen to belong. In this paper, we shall focus exclusively on the ethnic-based attire worn by many – though not all – of the locality’s dwellers. The choice of such attire raises a number of pivotal questions that could be said to be directly related to issues of “ethnic integration”, “multiculturalism” and/or some form of “Apartheid” as practiced in the UK. Although discussing a person’s choice of attire appears to be – at first sight – a fairly simple matter, it does raise major questions such as the following [all of which shall be examined in some detail below]:
- To what extent is it accurate to say that an average member of East Ham’s ethnic “cultural clusters” dresses according to stereotypes determined by brands of a “globalized” fashion industry?
- Is it true to say that the impact of such “globalized” fashion industry is a mere “myth” when it comes to the specific manner of dress adopted by large swathes of East Ham’s “cultural clusters”?
- Is it not, rather, some form of what we may call “ethno-globalization” [for instance, the specific influence of India’s own “Bollywood” culture] that naturally has a much deeper impact on some of East Ham’s ethnic “settlers”?
- Further, and definitely much more saliently, is it not accurate to argue that even the impact of such “ethno-globalization” [disseminated through the importation of upmarket ready-made clothes from India] may be limited to particular social strata within ethnic communities that possess the necessary economic capacity to participate in such fashion trends?
- What role does the factor of relative poverty [evident amongst certain strata of East Ham’s “cultural clusters”] play in determining people’s choice of attire? To what extent does that economic factor undermine the impact of an “ethno-globalized” fashion industry while fostering a culture of clothing that springs more directly from the locality’s “cultural cluster” itself?
- As we shall see below, it has been argued that members of an ethnic-based “cultural cluster” tend to seek the “safety” of the socio-spatial nexus to which they belong, and do so in the face of the “uneven” and “destructive” impact of “globalization” [the need for such “safety” may arise for reasons other than those related to “globalization” – for instance, the possibly hostile relations with other “cultural clusters” dwelling in their environs]. If that be the case, what role does the need for a self-survivalist “safety” play in reinforcing the cultural milieu – and hence the respective dress codes – of a specific “cultural cluster” within the East Ham region? To what extent does that further undermine the impact of “ethno-globalized” fashion trends amongst certain social strata of the locality?
- As we shall further see below, it has been observed that there has been a growing resistance, especially on the part of female members of various “cultural clusters” [within the UK, though also elsewhere around the world], to “Western influences” in clothing. Such resistance may be explained in terms of the “pull factor” exerted on people by the aesthetics of the local cultural milieu of a “cultural cluster”. Keeping that in mind, we shall need to investigate the extent to which such aesthetics – and as these are embedded in the cultural and racial values of an ethnic group – have come to overshadow the “elite designs” of “global” or “ethno-global” entrepreneurs. Alternatively, one may examine the extent to which “global” commercial and/or “cultural” actors often need to adjust to local contexts.
- Within the general framework established by the manner in which questions such as the above are answered – and these questions can only be answered through empirical research – one may further proceed to investigate the matter of imported, ready-made clothes from India and the extent to which such items have to be “recontextualized” within the UK’s own “ethnic circuits” in ways that reflect the needs of the local cultural milieu. Put otherwise, we shall need to investigate the extent to which the designs of India’s ready-made clothes have to be adapted to local specifications. And further, and to the extent that such adaptation does in fact occur, we shall need to investigate how that is done, practically speaking.
- Apart from the matter of imported, ready-made clothes, we shall also need to investigate the fairly widespread practices of tailoring undertaken by local clothes enterprises in the region of East Ham, and how such practices can undermine the brand designs promoted by “global” or “ethno-global” fashion markets. Related to such local tailoring practices, one may also examine the phenomenon of the self-designing of clothes – again a fairly common initiative undertaken by members [usually female] of East Ham’s “cultural clusters”. Here too, the question of the undermining or refashioning of “global” stereotypes in attire worn by UK’s ethnic minorities shall have to be considered.
- Apart from examining the practices of local tailoring and customer self-designing – and how these may or may not compromise the dictates of the “globalized” or “ethno-globalized” clothes industry – we shall also need to consider the role of the East End’s own traditional clothing industry, much of which is run by ethnic minority entrepreneurs and operated by ethnic minority employees. The question we shall need to investigate here is why this local industry has been able to survive in the face of imported goods, and the implications of such local competitiveness as regards local cultural aesthetics [versus “globalized” aesthetics].
- Ultimately, all such issues may allow us to answer the central most important question that concerns this paper on ethnic-based attire as a cultural practice of “cultural clusters” sited in localities such as East Ham – viz. is there a sense in which the wearing of particular clothes by certain ethnic minorities attains an existential meaning that stands in contradistinction to the cultural practices pertaining to the attire of the average White Briton? Could one say, for instance – and as it has already been asserted by some analysts – that attire worn by members of ethnic “cultural clusters” can be very “semiotically charged” or “powerfully coded”? And further, may one argue that a certain type of clothing worn by members of these “clusters” constitutes a religious-based “signifier of difference” whereby the wearer wishes to communicate specific ideo-religious principles to others? And most importantly, is it accurate to say that the choice of such clothing – precisely as a “signifier of difference” – is deliberately meant to set one “cultural cluster” apart from, though not necessarily against, other “clusters”?
Dealing with such questions naturally raises the issue of a possible grassroots-based social “Apartheid” in certain geographical localities of the UK. But it would be impossible to even attempt to approach such reality without first gathering and systematizing a variety of empirical data around the matter of ethnic-based attire within the specific region of East Ham. Our research work enables us to focus on the following set of data:
- A presentation of the various clothes shops concentrated in East Ham’s High Street, though also in the wider region of East Ham – and especially with respect to shops lined along Green Street. The clothes shop by the name of Daminis [or, more accurately, Daminis London] may be taken as one possible case-study of an Asian “fashion store” situated in the heart of the Asian community within the wider region of East Ham – we may do this because useful research work on this outlet has already been undertaken by at least one social analyst.
- A survey of the different types of ethnic attire worn in a locality such as East Ham – we shall have to especially focus on the Salwar Kameez Suits, but also on Sarees, Hijabs, Abayas, Sherwanis and many other related clothes and accessories. The important domain of ethnic wedding and engagement practices shall also be touched on, and how these inevitably relate to the buying of particular garments.
- An examination of the various price ranges attached to different categories of ethnic clothing, and the implications of this with respect to consumer buying power [the latter, of course, being one determinant of either upmarket or downmarket consumption and which could perhaps allow us to demarcate the type of clothes consumption according to class position within the community]. It would be useful to keep such data in mind when discussing the factor of poverty, and how this factor may determine a person’s access to or exclusion from the “ethno-globalized” fashion trends mentioned above.
- An examination of the degree of “customer exploitation” taking place in the clothes shops of East Ham, and the role of the negotiation of prices between shop owner and customer.
- The quality of products sold by clothes shops in the area – the updating of fashion trends, or the lack of any such updating, and the implications of such practices.
- The customer service offered in the clothes shops of the locality, and especially the role of ethnic staff in such venues, and the implications of this.
The clothes shops in the region of East Ham
Our purpose here is not to provide a comprehensive list of the various clothes shops operating along High Street or Green Street – various outlets will in any case be referred to as we go along in discussing the different aspects of ethnic-based attire in the locality. Here, we shall merely present some of the more characteristic features of the area’s network of clothes shops.
The Indian Business Directory UK [cf. https://www.indianbusinessdirectory.co.uk] gives us some idea of the types of attire that East Ham’s clothing outlets specialize in – we read: “Indian/Pakistani clothes shops in East Ham region of Newham in East London specializing in Punjabi Suits, Salwar Kameez, Bridal Lehengas, Sherwanis, Saree, Ghagra Cholis, Kuti Tops, Anarkali Suits, and Bollywwod clothes”.
We intend to discuss some of these types of exclusively ethnic attire further below. It should also be noted that the Directory does not differentiate between “Indian” and “Pakistani” clothes shops in the area – it subsumes both into one category, and we shall attempt to investigate the possible implications of this below.
Throughout this project, we have presented East Ham’s High Street – and especially High Street North – as being the market hub of the locality: as in the case of food outlets [cf. Paper 4b], one shall also find a variety of ethnic clothes shops that are so characteristic of “Little India”. But when it comes to clothes shops in the area, one cannot avoid mentioning the case of Green Street as well, a road which is said to form much of the boundary between East and West Ham. As has already been alluded to, we find that – here too – there is a noteworthy concentration of Asian clothes shops along Green Street. If only because little to nothing has thus far been mentioned regarding this part of the East Ham region, we shall here present a number of observations about its ethnic clothing outlets [with respect to the area around Green Street, cf. John Rogers, “Through Forest Gate to Upton Park – Farewell Boleyn”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ISE_a-PuxU, 04.12.2016].
Potential customers looking for the most appropriate outlets where they could buy clothing items such as Sarees often discuss their preferences based on personal experiences – many would opt for shops along Green Street. Consider the following observations made on the Tripadvisor website under the rubric “Looking for Indian shop – saris, etc.”, recorded about eleven years ago: “I second Green Street, which has the most sari shops (and Indian shops in general) I have seen in London. It’s easy to get to Upton Park on the District Line. Green Street is also reputed to be the cheapest shopping street in London” [cf. https://www.tripadvisor.com].
Yet another potential customer has this to say about clothes shops along or near the Green Street area: “My husband is South Indian (Tamil) and when we go looking for all things Indian in London we go to these areas of London [viz. in the vicinity of Green Street]… East Ham (Sri Lankan Hindu area) is good… lots of sari and gold shops – this is near Green St. which also has lots of Asian shops…” [ibid.].
An important feature of the ethnic-based clothes outlets along Green Street is the well-known East Shopping Centre [located at 232-236 Green Street, London – cf. its website, https://www.eastshoppingcentre.com]. Said to be Europe’s first all-Asian shopping mall, this complex of shops is divided into “Units”, these being ethnic-owned enterprises specializing in the selling of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic attire. According to Nabila Pathan, writing for Al Arabiya News: “The indoor boutique Asian shopping centre, opened with a soft launch first in January this year . The new centre has been constructed on a one-acre plus site where a former bus depot was located, considered a landmark in the area. Developers have ensured that the shopping centre maintains its original front face. The mall consists of 35 two-storey shop units and for smaller traders, a 17-unit souk [viz. an Arab-like market-place or bazaar] as well as a large food court” [cf. Nabila Pathan, “Saris, souks and silk: Europe’s ‘first Asian shopping mall’ opens”, https://www.english.alarabiya.net, 30.03.2015].
In examining the different aspects of ethnic attire below, we shall be making use of data pertaining to a number of clothes outlets based in the East Shopping Centre, such as Malika London [Unit 29 within the mall] and Zarkan of London [Units 3-5]. A customer reviewing the latter outlet [cf. https://www.googlereviews.com – all customer reviews presented throughout this paper have been retrieved from this source, unless otherwise stated] would make the following interesting comments regarding the whole of the Centre and the area in which it is located: “New. Shiny. It’s where an old overground station used to be so there’s plenty of space in there. As it’s mainly an Asian dominated area it caters for Asian women’s fashion quite well… but unfortunately there is little else there to attract any other demographic [sic]. Worth looking in if you’re in the area for sure but I wouldn’t travel to it unless you are looking at getting Asian fashion items” [my emph.]. We notice that the commentator’s observations focus on the issue of ethnic exclusivity prevailing in both the vicinity and the mall.
Such prevalence of the ethnic element – as also the exclusivity that goes with it – is also reflected in the manner in which the East Shopping Centre has been promoting itself. Since its establishment, it has been organizing a series of promotional campaigns all of which attest to and confirm an attachment to specific ethno-cultural paradigms. This, of course, is absolutely natural: since it caters for an Asian clientele that opts for exclusively ethnic attire, the Centre’s promotional campaigns can only but be ethnic-based cultural “events”. It could be argued, however, that such “events” point to a tight connection between ethnic attire and cultural identity – and could therefore be said to confirm the “cultural semiosis” and the “signification of difference” applying to ethnic clothing in general [as we have suggested above]. At this point, we do not intend to deal with the Centre’s promotional “events” in whatever analytical manner meant to throw light on such issues, nor shall we examine the extent to which these “events” are expressive of either an “ethno-global” or a “local” cultural manifestation – we shall here merely present such “events” so as to give us some descriptive idea of the connections that may pertain between ethnic-based attire and ethnic-based identity [of course, that type of analysis shall definitely be attempted further below].
The East Shopping Centre’s website informs us that, on March 15, 2016, the Centre would organize a series of “events” meant to celebrate the first anniversary of its establishment. According to the website: “East Shopping Centre celebrated its first anniversary with an afternoon of music, food, family activities and of course a stunning display of Asian fashion… The fun-filled day saw live performances from international music stars, Juggy D, and Mumzy Stranger, live make-up demos from the Lubna Rafiq Academy, dance workshops from Absolute Bollywood… Crowds at East Shopping Centre danced throughout the afternoon to Juggy D, the self styled Punjabi Rockstar…”
It would be useful to note here some basic biographical details on these two “music stars” who participated in the Centre’s anniversary celebrations [we intend to deal with East Ham’s ethnic-based music trends in a forthcoming paper]. So-called “Juggy D” is a Punjabi rock star whose real name is Jagwinder Singh Dhaliwal. He was born in 1981 in Southall, West London, a suburban district often referred to as “Little Punjab” [given the overwhelming presence of Punjabis in the area]. He usually sings in the Punjabi language and one of the main music genres that has characterized his work is that of “Bhangra”, a type of popular grassroots music closely associated with UK’s Punjabi “settler” population. Likewise, so-called “Mumzy Stranger” – whose real name is Muhammad Mumith Ahmed – is a local Newham rapper of Bangladeshi descent. He was born in 1984 to Bengali Muslim parents in Plaistow, a district of Newham. This rapper’s main fan base is to be found in the localities of Newham itself, and most of his songs are in the Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi and Arabic languages.
In the course of his visit to the East Shopping Centre, Mumzy Stranger would make a number of public comments meant to promote the activities of the Centre – this is how the website [op. cit.] puts it: “Singer Mumzy Stranger, a local East Londoner, said: ‘It’s great to have East Shopping Centre here on Green Street, which has long been a business hub for the vibrant Asian community in this area. It’s the perfect place for Europe’s first Asian shopping centre and it has attracted over a million people to the area in just its first year’…”
As noted above, the East Shopping Centre’s first anniversary celebrations would also involve the participation of the Lubna Rafiq Academy and Absolute Bollywood Ltd. Very briefly, we may simply note that the former is an enterprise that trains people in the techniques of specifically Asian makeup and hair “artistry”; the latter organizes workshops in Indian dance techniques. Both seem to be rather popular institutions amongst members of the middle classes belonging to the UK’s Asiatic “cultural clusters”.
Finally, it is of some interest to note that the East Shopping Centre had invited Lyn Brown, MP for West Ham, to attend the 2016 celebrations. He was present as “chief guest”.
All succeeding promotional “events” organized by the East Shopping Centre would further express dimensions of ethnic culture and identity closely related to the ethnic attire that the Centre’s “Units” trade to their ethnic-based clientele. On August 22, 2016, a popular Bollywood actor would visit the Centre. The website informs us as follows: “Star Anil Kapoor visits East Shopping Centre… Over the weekend East Shopping Centre had the pleasure to welcome thousands of guests to greet Bollywood & Hollywood actor Anil Kapoor…” The reference here is to a Mumbai-born Indian actor who has mainly starred in Hindi-language films.
By 2017, and again as part of its promotional “events”, the Centre would welcome Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to its premises. According to the Centre’s website: “East Shopping Centre, Europe’s first purpose-built boutique Asian shopping centre, welcomed legendary qawwali singer-songwriter, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan on Wednesday 6th September 2017”. Rahat happens to be one of Pakistan’s biggest stars – he is a Pakistani “Qawwali” musician and has also sung Pakistani nationalist songs [cf. M.A. Sheikh, Who’s Who: Music in Pakistan, Xlibris Corporation, 2012]. As regards the “Qawwali” repertoire, we may simply note that it is a devotional music of the Muslim Sufis. Apart from his major work in such Muslim Sufi devotional songs, Rahat has also been popular as a playback singer in both Bollywood and the Pakistani film industry. He was born into a Punjabi family of Qawwals in Faisalabad, Punjab, Pakistan.
The inexorably tight relationship between the Centre’s ethnic-based clothes trading and its embracement of the cultural practices of specific “cultural clusters” would also manifest itself in a variety of other ways – we mention a few such examples in passing. In 2018, the Centre would be the main sponsor of the Indian community’s most important annual beauty pageant in the UK. According to its website: “We’re proud to announce that East Shopping Centre is the official sponsor of Miss India UK”. The event would take place towards the end of the year, on December 1. Keeping in mind the central importance of the institution of marriage within UK’s Asian community [which we intend to further touch on below], the Centre would play a major role in organizing the annual “Asiana Wedding Weekend” for 2019. This event would occur on Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 28 of that year. Similarly, it would sponsor the “Asiana Bridal Show London 2020”, which would take place on Sunday, January 26. The website states: “We’re proud to announce that East Shopping Centre is the official Catwalk Sponsor of the Asiana Bridal Show London”.
As already mentioned above, we do not at this stage intend to draw whatever general conclusions from the East Shopping Centre’s periodic cultural activities – data provided here may begin to make much more sense when placed within the general framework regarding ethnic-based attire which we shall be presenting below.
Now, yet another important complex of ethnic-based clothes shops in the area has been that of the East Ham Market Hall, situated along Myrtle Road [it is a six-minute drive from High Street North, and less than a ten-minute drive from Green Street]. Unlike the East Shopping Centre – which one would say is an example of mostly upmarket Asian fashions – the Market Hall has mainly served the downmarket consumer segments of various “cultural clusters” in the locality. It is a landmark of the region, having been established back in the 1920’s and thus forms part of the “ancient” history of the “cockney milieu” period [it is currently being redeveloped – cf. https://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk, 13.06.2019].
The East Ham Market Hall has been run by members of the locality’s “settler” – or immigrant – population. A visitor to the Market Hall describes activities therein all too accurately – we read: “This is a very old and traditional market hall based in East Ham. It’s a mix of traditional East End businesses and stalls run by various immigrants. The stalls are all under cover and range from Delis [viz. delicatessens] to shops selling silk saries alongside African grocers. An interesting mix of shops due [to] a rich tradition of immigrants from Poles to West Africans to the local area”. Yet another visitor would rather prophetically assert the need for the Market Hall’s revamping – as he states: “Not a nice place anymore. Was once a thriving market. Now in decline. Needs razing to the ground and start again”.
Both the East Shopping Centre and the East Ham Market Hall belong to an area that is riddled with an extensive array of clothes shops serving the different “cultural clusters” defining the locality. This does not mean, however, that each and every of those outlets restricts their wares to the needs of one specific “cluster”. In fact, and so long as the clothing befits a general “settler” culture expressive of a non-Western ethnic diasporic aesthetics, such clothing may be sold by whichever of the outlets forming the network of East Ham’s clothes shops. Of course, this general observation is based on our research of clothing outlets in the locality – given the practical limitations of our research work, it is quite possible that there may be important exceptions to such a general observation.
Be that as it may, and based on our particular findings, we may surmise that there is a certain “diversity” of attire – within the limited ambit of ethnic-based aesthetics – bartered by many East Ham outlets. We shall here present some instances of such “diversity” of wares within various shops:
- To begin with, a customer of Daminis London [277A Green Street] writes explicitly of this “diversity”, at least in the sense that the outlet offers its services to a variety of ethnic groups. The customer’s general impression of the clothes shop is presented as follows: “Fashionable and peacefully welcoming all the diverse people of the world!” We are told, further, that Daminis sells both “Great Indian” and – more generally – “Asian” clothing. It should be noted at this point that this “diversity” of attire is most obvious – or more prevalent – in the case of outlets belonging to the upmarket “fashionable” category [this is not meant to suggest that downmarket outlets would never subscribe to such indiscriminating practices]. Daminis may be said to more or less belong to the upmarket type of shop.
- Malika London, operating – as mentioned above – within the East Shopping Centre, serves both Pakistani and Indian customers. The Shopping Centre’s website, which also includes some data on the operations of Malika, informs us as follows: “Malika London offers today’s discerning women the very best in Pakistani and Indian fashion at high street prices” [we shall have to come back to the question of clothes prices, further below].
- Zarkan of London, also within the East Shopping Centre [cf. above], is yet another case where both Pakistani and Indian clothes are available. A customer of this outlet states: “If you are looking for Indian [and] Pakistani dresses it’s the place to be”.
- Based on a couple of customer reviews, we know that Poshak Mahal [11 Carlton Terrace, Green Street, within the East Ham constituency] serves the needs of both Pakistani and Indian “settlers”. One customer only refers to the “Pakistani garments” that the outlet sells. On the other hand, another informs us as follows: “Great selection of Indian and Pakistani clothes”.
- Henna Mehndi [316-318 Green Street] seems to be that kind of outlet that provides for upmarket fashions. The shop’s Facebook Page certainly testifies to that fact – posts give us “product details” under the telling rubric, “Uptown”. One such post, obviously targeting members of “cultural clusters” belonging to the middle- or even upper-middle classes, reads as follows: “Be the queen of the night in this [there is an accompanying picture] delicate long shirt with heavily embellished cape sleeves. Paired with our meticulously tailored embroidered cigarette trousers (sold separately), this is a truly exquisite ensemble that is sure to make heads turn”. At the same time, Henna Mehndi’s stocks cater for a “diversity” of clothing – we may therefore again observe the fact that belonging to the upscale category of clothing outlet seems to go hand-in-hand with such “diversity”. Yet another post presents potential customers with “Teal Embellished Trousers… Designed in London”. These are “designer” trousers [usually suggesting high quality] of both the “Indian” and the “Pakistani” variety.
- Choudhary Fashion [262 High Street North, Manor Park] explicitly advertizes its wares by referring to these as “mixed clothes”. Again these include Indian and Pakistani attire.
- J. Junaid Jamshed [208 Green Street] – which also presents itself as belonging to the upmarket category – is said to be a “Pakistani & Global” store [as mentioned above, the question of so-called “globalization” in fashion trends shall be discussed in some detail below]. While one customer states that the outlet is a “Great place for Pakistani clothing”, another generally describes clothes items sold therein as “ethnic dresses”. Yet another customer writes of “Asian clothes”.
- A final sample here would be the Little Asia East Ham store [or Little Asia Emporium; 294 High Street North]. Although it is possible that this outlet has closed down, we may nonetheless note that it used to sell clothes that had been imported from both India and Pakistan, including Sherwanis, Kurta Pyjamas, and Punjabi Salwar Kameez.
We have stated above that we intend to take the Daminis London outlet as a useful case-study of an Asian “fashion store” [the idea is to make use of data pertaining to this particular store so as to illustrate some of the points we wish to make that would apply to most of the outlets in the region of East Ham]. At this point, and merely by way of an introduction, we shall present some basic data regarding Daminis. Our main source of information on this outlet is Parminder Bhachu’s work, Dangerous Designs: Asian Women Fashion, the Diaspora Economies, Psychology Press, 2004. One should acknowledge that Bhachu’s work is extremely useful in that it provides us with vital data based on interviews that she has conducted with the owners of Daminis – her contribution to empirical research in the field of East London’s [and especially Green Street’s] ethnic-based clothes stores is therefore invaluable. On the other hand, one cannot help but notice how such solid empirical work is placed within a “theoretical” framework burdened by the fruitless jargon of postmodern “sociology”. Often enough, a study meant to investigate Asian female attire tilts towards the ideologically-laden gibberish of “gender studies”. We shall have to ignore the jargon so as to salvage Bhachu’s facts.
Although customer commentary on Daminis can show an extreme disparity of views, it is quite apparent that many locals do recognize its history and long-standing service to the Asian community of the area. One characteristic customer review is the following: “A great Asian Fashion Store in the heart of the Asian Community”. Yet another customer writes: “One of the best and biggest ladies oriental dress shop in East London”. As we shall see below, both the enterprise – as a commercial-cum-cultural entity – and its owners are deeply rooted within their particular “cultural cluster”, and are so in a variety of ways.
Bhachu informs us that the owners of the enterprise are Mrs. Damini and her son. It was the former who actually established the enterprise back in the late-1960’s. Bhachu writes: “Daminis is a chain of four clothes department stores owned and run by Mrs. Damini Mahendra… and her son, Deepak. I met Mrs. Damini in 1996 at their newly opened shop in Green Street in east London (a few doors down from Bubby’s shop, Chiffons, in fact)… Mrs. Damini started her first shop in east London in 1969…” [cf. p. 103 – because the enterprise was founded by a female, Bhachu chooses to dub it as “a commercial community mamma’s shop”; we also note the reference to the Chiffons clothes outlet, which shall elsewhere also be referred to as Shiffonz].
The establishment of Mrs. Damini’s first shop would take place in a social environment wherein the prevailing “cultural clusters” of the present had yet to be formed – throughout the decade of the 1960’s, the local milieu would still be dominated by “cockney culture” while Asian “settlers” had yet to make their appearance en masse. Bhachu writes: “When she [Mrs. Damini] opened up the shop there were few Asians in the area. She says she was lonely and ‘if I saw one [viz. an Asian] I would grab their arm and invite them to my house’. She started a cloth-sari shop because she herself liked to wear good clothes…” [cf. p. 104].
By the 1980’s, both the social environment [the local “cultural clusters” would be in the process of crystallizing] and the Daminis enterprise itself would be set to undergo critical changes. As regards the present, Bhachu describes the situation as follows: “These days, she [Mrs. Damini] talks with pride of her ‘business-minded’ son who joined her in the early 1980’s when he left college. Now in his mid-forties, it is his drive that has taken the shop into ready-mades, transforming it into a department store; he has computerized the stocking systems to keep track of merchandise in all the stores; and also experimented with new retailing computer technologies. However, Mrs. Damini remains the one who buys the stock, signs the cheques and controls the money. She is the overseeing matriarch who supervises the activities in the Green Street shop” [ibid.].
There are two points to make with respect to the above quote: Firstly, and simply in passing, we can ignore that rather grandiloquent phrase, “overseeing matriarch”. But secondly, and much more importantly, we shall at some point need to dwell on the fact that the Daminis enterprise would ultimately focus its business on “ready-mades”. In the analyses that follow below, we will need to explore in detail what is precisely meant by the “ready-mades” of an outlet such as Daminis and the implications of this – the issue is of course directly related to discussions revolving around “globalized fashion trends” vis-à-vis “localized fashion aesthetics”, it being a key question which we have already touched on above.
We may end these preliminary notes on the Daminis enterprise by further quoting Bhachu, who provides us with some very useful background information concerning the Green Street store: “It is an impressive store in terms of size and fixtures and it benefits from the old and established clientele developed over nearly thirty years. The shop is on the corner site of a former petrol station and was built according to Deepak’s design specifications, glass-fronted, with wooden floors; this is his ‘dream shop, his lifetime’s work’, his mother explains. He has modelled it on London and Indian department stores, like Sheetal and Roopam in Mumbai. A staff of six or so young shop assistants work with Mrs. Damini. Mostly young British-raised Asian women, they wear a uniform of black and green salwaar suits…” [cf. p. 105, my emph.].
It is of some importance to observe here that the design of the Daminis store was based on specifically Indian conventions, reproducing those of other outlets be these in London or Mumbai. It may be noted that Sheetal India concentrates on ready-made bridal wear, and is said to employ traditional Indian craftsmanship in the production of its products. Similarly, the Roopam Exclusive Designer Wear retail company also concentrates, though not exclusively so, on attire related to weddings. Also of importance is the fact that the shop assistants of the Daminis store are all dressed in Salwaar Suits: this particular dimension of ethnic-based attire, whereby members of staff within Indian clothes stores sport their own “signifiers of difference”, will be further discussed below.
Types of ethnic attire worn in the region of East Ham
In this sub-section, we shall attempt to give some idea of what type of clothing constitutes what we have thus far referred to as “ethnic attire”, and as such attire is worn in a locality such as East Ham. The list is neither comprehensive nor – dare we say – fully coherent, at least in the sense that some of the clothing presented as a particular “type” might overlap with other “types”. We cannot pretend to be at all experts on the highly complex matter of ethnic attire and its wide range of designs, patterns and accessories. Keeping such limitations in mind, we shall here present a list of the different types of ethnic clothing and, wherever possible, provide some elementary data helping us to understand what such apparel is all about. We shall also provide some information regarding the particular outlets in the locality of East Ham that sell such different types of clothing:
- The Salwar Kameez Suit
The Salwar Kameez seems to be of cardinal importance in the ethnic-type attire worn in the locality.
Ruby Fashions [333-335 High Street North, Manor Park] is one outlet that is said to specialize in the selling of the Salwar Kameez [also referred to, inter alia, as Shalwar Kameez]. Salwars are pants; the Kameez is a long shirt or tunic. The Salwar Kameez is thus “a traditional combination dress worn by women, and in some regions by men, in South Asia, as well as Central Asia” [cf., especially, https://www.en.wikipedia.org; but cf., as well, the Indian Business Directory, as also: https://www.allinlondon.co.uk/directory – much of the data used in this sub-section have been retrieved from a combination of these three sources, unless otherwise stated].
Ruby Fashions is also said to specialize in Punjabi Suits – we tentatively place this attire in the category of the Salwar Kameez as it is stated that such suits are the traditional attire for Punjabi women, and which is a type of clothing often equated to the Salwar Suit.
The same outlet, further, also sells Patiala Suits – these are described as being a Punjabi Suit, and we may thus also relate it to the Salwar Kameez. The attire has roots that go back to Patiala City, located in the northern region of India’s Punjab State.
Finally, Ruby Fashions also deals in Dupattas – the Dupatta is a shawl-like scarf, constituting a part of women’s traditionally essential clothing in the Indian subcontinent. It forms part of the women’s Salwar Kameez costume.
Nilo’s Women Clothing Store [443 High Street North; with a branch at 52 Plashet Grove, an East Ham locality bordering Upton Park and Manor Park] also specializes in the Salwar Kameez. The manner in which this store’s stock is presented is such as to fuse all of the Salwar Kameez variations mentioned above into one type of attire – we are told that the store sells “Ladies’ Punjabi Shlwal [sic] Kameez, Patiala Salwars, Punjabi Suits” [cf. especially, the Indian Business Directory].
Rani Fashions [302 High Street North, Manor Park] concentrates on women’s clothing. The store explains that “We sell all kinds of women fashion clothing” – included in these various kinds of attire are Punjabi Suits.
A store that goes by the name of 6 Kumars Silk House [285 High Street North, Manor Park] presents its “business profile” in the directory of Hotfrog [cf. https://www.hotfrog.co.uk], inter alia, as follows: “We offer a huge selection [of womenswear, menswear and childrenswear]… in order to make us a one stop shop for all your clothing requirements. We have a wide range of products such as Punjabi suits”. While it deals in what it terms “general clothing”, therefore, we see that it also has its stock of the Punjabi Salwar Kameez Suit.
Bombay Fashion Exclusive [317 Green Street] also sells the Salwar Kameez. However, there have been quite a number of customer reviews that express a certain dissatisfaction with the quality of that garment as sold in this outlet.
Malika London sells a wide variety of what it calls the “Pakistani Salwar-Kameez”.
Shiffonz [300 Green Street, the outlet that is located near Daminis, cf. above] is said to provide a “Good collection of Salwar Kameez” [according to a customer review].
J. Junaid Jamsted [cf. above] also sells the Salwar Kameez. One customer review, not too favourable, reads as follows: “I would say that the most moderate collection of classic design [is] available here for Panjabi and Salwar Kameez”. It is interesting to note that, according to yet another customer, this outlet stocks “Some good Shalwar Gamees [sic] for kids and men”.
We may conclude these brief notes on the Salwar Kameez by making a number of general observations – most of these have been retrieved from Quora [https://www.quora.com, 24.05.2017], and should therefore not be taken to be too definitive. Firstly, the Salwar Kameez is said to be a Muslim type of attire, at least in terms of its origins. In traditional Hindu culture – and as regards males in particular – it was the Dhoti that was once worn, not the Salwar Kameez. It is further suggested that the Salwar Kameez – and the art of stitching that accompanied it – was introduced to India around the 13th century, following the arrival of the Muslims in Punjab.
The Dhoti, by the way, is a type of sarong outwardly resembling trousers. It is a lower garment forming part of the national or ethnic costume for males in the Indian subcontinent. A Quora contributor, however, explains that most Hindus nowadays do not choose to wear the Dhoti – and he adds: “I’ve never seen a young Hindu wear Dhoti like young Muslims wear Shalwar-Qamis [sic]”. In any case, and especially as regards Hindu women, it is the Salwar Kameez that predominates.
The reasons for such predominance are many, and we intend to touch on some of these as we go along. In attempting to explain the popularity of the Salwaar Kameez in the UK, some analysts prefer to approach the matter from a somewhat “economistic” [and may we say pseudo-Marxian] perspective. One such is Parminder Bhachu [mentioned above] who, in a paper entitled “It’s hip to be Asian – The local and global networks of Asian fashion entrepreneurs in London”, writes: “I explore an economy of clothes, the designs negotiated within it, and commerce around it, to point to the new rhythms involved in the commoditization of ‘salwaar-kameezes’, also referred to as Punjabi suits… These suits constitute a large domain of the gift exchanges within the wedding economy” [in Peter Jackson, Philip Crang and Claire Dwyer (eds.), Transnational Spaces, Routledge Research in Transnationalism, Routledge, 2004, p. 40, my emph.]. Apart from the run-of-the-mill post-modernist jargon that this text is infested with, it also chooses to reduce everything to “an economy of clothes” or to “the wedding economy”, and is thus absolutely blind to the reality of religio-cultural practices as autonomously determining forces in themselves. Were one to acknowledge such forces in their own right, then Bhachu’s observation that the Salwar Kameez “constitutes a large domain of the gift exchanges” in wedding ceremonies may be seen in a completely different light: people exchange Salwar Kameezes as gifts, wear them, get married and finally reproduce for reasons other than “the economy” [in fact, it is the selfsame Bhachu who at some point must admit that the Salwar Kameez is, and as we shall further see, a “very semiotically charged and powerfully coded attire”]. For our purposes, we may simply salvage one single point of importance from Bhachu’s work here – viz. the prevailing significance of the Salwar Kameez in the daily lives of certain “cultural clusters” in localities such as East Ham.
It is precisely this single point of importance that Bhachu goes on to explore in some detail, albeit from the perspective we have already noted. By the late-1990’s, she observes, the Salwar Kameez Suits are available through “many distributive agencies”. These include “the many market stalls and ready-made clothes/designer boutiques in mainly ‘ethnic’ areas catering to a different style clientele”. Further, she notes that in the above-mentioned period, there had been a “rapid increase in networks of distribution”. Many market stalls, Bhachu continues, have “mushroomed” in localities such as East Ham [ibid., my emph. throughout]. It should be emphasized here that the “mushrooming” of outlets dealing in the Salwar Kameez did not take place in a cultural vacuum of “an economy of clothes” – rather, it sprouted within specifically “ethnic” localities and amongst concrete people who valued their own, “different style” [obviously “different” vis-à-vis White Britons]. The implication is undeniable: the Salwar Kameez is an ethnic-based attire expressive of “cultural clusters” that set themselves apart from the rest – they take pride in their own “different [cultural] style”.
We should remind ourselves, finally, that this “mushrooming” of “distributive agencies” selling the Salwar Kameez in a locality such as East Ham would become so symbolic of the pervasiveness of the suit that even members of staff of these “agencies” would be wearing it on a daily basis [cf. above, with respect to Daminis].
- The Saree [or Sari]
The Saree, of course, has been the quintessential female dress in India. Further, and according to Quora [cf. Raakhee Venugopal, 01.05.2016]: “A saree is an attire worn by women of all faiths all across the subcontinent – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka. It is not restricted to any faith. And yes, Indian Muslims… wear saree”. One may simply add here that the wearing of the Saree is likewise popular amongst “cultural clusters” of London’s “Little India”, and naturally so.
Mahir [230 Green Street] is one outlet in the region of East Ham that sells the Saree. One customer review reads as follows: “If you are looking to buy a party wear or just everyday simple Indian dresses, Mahir is the place you should go to. They have from party wear dresses and sarees to everyday wear at a reasonable price…” It seems that this store deals, inter alia, in the plain and simple Saree worn on a day-to-day basis. As we shall further see below, the Saree is a type of attire that can be either cheap and plain in design or it can be rather expensive and intricately styled with various degrees of complexity. Of course, in-between cases also abound.
Doli London [248 Green Street], a women’s clothes shop, also sells a variety of Sarees. One customer, writing in the Facebook Page administered by this outlet, comments as follows: “Wonderful Sari I love Doli’s all Sari, why not they open web site [sic]”. Quite a number of Saree-selling clothes stores based in East Ham administer a Facebook Page so as to inform customers of their latest wares. Some also have their websites, and the customer we are quoting here is apparently requesting that the Doli London store should also establish its own website, obviously so as to keep up with the latest Saree trends and accompanying prices.
Silk Rang [334 Green Street, Upton Park – cf. https://www.silkrang.com] is an outlet that is said to offer “the widest variety of designer collections” – such collections, of the upmarket category, include Sarees.
The store by the name of 6 Kumars Silk House [cf. above] offers a “huge selection” of Sarees, as also Bridal Sarees.
East & West Clothing [337 High Street North], an outlet specializing in women’s “special occasion clothes”, sells both cotton and silk Sarees [cf. the Indian Business Directory].
Rasam Gayatri Silks [312 High Street North, Manor Park] deals in what is known as Kanjipuram [or Kanchipuram] Saree Silks. This is a type of woven Silk Saree originating from the town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, India. The outlet therefore concentrates, inter alia, on selling Tamil-type Sarees. This store, by the way, is listed in the Tamil Business Index, cf. https://www.tamilbusinessindex.com/listings; it is also listed in The Tamil City, a “Tamil community business & professional online directory”, cf. https://thetamilcity.com/listings.
It should be further stated that the Rasam Gayatri Silks store also sells what is known as the Coorai Saree [often simply referred to as the Wedding Coorai]. This type of Saree, according to S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, is “A sari gifted by the groom to the bride for wearing at the wedding ceremony. It is usually a silk sari with gold thread” [cf. The Exile Returned: A Self-portrait of the Tamil Vellahlahs of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Aruvi Publishers, 1997, p. 212]. The garment is related to what is known as the “Coorai ceremony”. Traditionally at least, the Coorai Saree came in a strictly prescribed range of colours, these being red, blue and yellow – what Ratnajeevan calls “the colours of the fire” [ibid., p. 213]. Thus, one often comes across the term, “Coorai Colours” – such term is also very commonly used amongst East Ham outlets dealing in this type of Saree. Generally speaking, “Coorai Colours” are worn by South Indian brides and are also popular amongst Bollywood movie stars [the precise impact of Bollywood on UK’s “cultural clusters” shall be discussed in detail further below].
Rasam Gayatri Silks, finally, also stocks what is known as the Kolam design Saree, a garment characterized by its traditional geometric line patterns. The store’s Kolam Saree is a Kerala engagement dress.
We have already noted that the East Ham Market Hall [cf. above] has been home to a number of outlets that have been dealing in Silk Sarees. Generally, however, customer reviews suggest that the type of Sarees sold in these outlets belong to the downmarket category. One customer, for instance, simply speaks of “cheap clothing”. On the other hand, reviewers have also stated that outlets at the East Ham Market Hall offer a “wide selection of clothes” [Sarees included].
According to its Facebook Page, Reva’s Fashions [276B High Street North] specializes in the selling of “party” Sarees.
Reva’s Fashions also specializes in the “engagement wear” Saree; as also in Sarees meant for weddings. As is well known – and as touched on in discussing the Wedding Coorai – the Saree is very popular for both such occasions.
Saree bridal outfits are also sold at Daminis [cf. above] – one customer review of this outlet tells us that this “Shiny 3-floor store displaying colourful Indian designerwear” specializes in Saree bridal outfits.
There is also what is called the “Stonework Saree”, sold – inter alia – at Reva’s Fashions. This type of Saree is embellished with “stones”, these being precious or semi-precious stones.
Further, there is the “Half Saree”, also sold – inter alia – at Reva’s Fashions. The “Half Saree” is a traditional outfit that is extremely prominent in South India – it may also be called a “Two-piece Saree” or “Half Lehenga” [we shall have to come back to the Lehenga ethnic wear].
Perhaps, and at least as regards the wider region of East Ham, it would be in the East Shopping Centre that one would find the “luxury designer” type of Saree. Zarkan of London, for instance – which, as we know, is situated within the Shopping Centre – is described as an “Upmarket boutique with a sizeable selection of designer… saris…”
- The Saree in combination with the Hijab
We have noted above that the Saree is an attire worn by both Hindu and Muslim women. The latter usually wear a separate Hijab that matches with their Saree. Some are said to merely opt for a regular black Hijab with whatever Saree they happen to be wearing. The combination of the Hijab with the Saree is evident, for instance, in the case of the Malayali Muslim women of Kerala [cf. Quora, 01.05.2016, ibid.] – this is naturally duplicated amongst the Muslim “cultural clusters” of the East Ham area.
There are of course numerous stores in and around East Ham selling Hijabs. We may here simply mention two examples. One such is Poshak Mahal [cf. above] – a customer review reads as follows: “Good Asian clothing shop for mostly adult[s], has nice hijabs and cardigans”. Another example is the Hijab Shop at 151 Byron Avenue, East Ham.
- The Abaya Cloak
The Abaya [sometimes referred to as “Aba”] is a long robe or cloak, usually black in colour. It is worn over whatever a woman happens to be wearing and covers the whole body. The modern “Jilbab” is a type of clothing very similar to an Abaya. The cloak is said to be absolutely compulsory for all Muslim women [to cover their face and body] if they are visible to “non-mahrams” – viz. people that a Muslim woman cannot marry. In fact, the Abaya cloak is a garment decreed by the Islamic religion, culture and norms and meant to “protect” women from men.
Mahir [cf. above] is one outlet that sells Abayas. Not all of its customers, however, are happy with its stock of this garment. One writes: “Very disappointed! Still haven’t updated their latest clothing range. Hardly any trendy and elegant Abayas”. This quote is of special interest as it suggests that, although the Abaya cloak is a religiously-decreed garment imposed on Muslim women, there may nonetheless be a certain expectation that the garment be “trendy” and “elegant” [below, we shall examine the extent to which such expectation is related to the buying power of the consumer, and therefore to the question of one’s class position within Muslim “cultural clusters”; determining factors external to class status would also need to be taken into account when considering the need for “trendiness”].
The Silk Rang store [cf. above] also sells the Abaya cloak.
Our often cited Daminis store is yet another outlet that deals in Abayas – one customer, on visiting the outlet for the first time, was impressed with its stock of “lovely abayas”.
Finally, we may mention the outlet by the apt name, Jilbabs ‘R’ Us, located within the East Shopping Centre [Unit 14]. The store is said to specialize in “traditional Islamic clothing” and, more specifically, “traditional abayas”. It is interesting to note that the Abaya cloak is referred to as “fashionable modest-wear”, obviously given its clear religious function [“protection” from the opposite sex]. The term “modest-wear”, of course, is also meant to echo that of “modern wear” [cf. https://www.jilbabsrus.co.uk].
- The Sherwani
The Sherwani is a long coat-like garment worn in the Indian subcontinent. It was a garment that had been originally associated with the Muslim aristocracy in the course of the British Raj in India. It is said to be worn over a Kurta with the combination of either a Churidar, a Dhoti, a Pajama or a Salwar Kameez [some of these types of attire and/or accessories shall be further discussed below – we have already said a few things about the Salwar Kameez Suit and the Dhoti].
As in the case of the Salwar Kameez, therefore, the Sherwani is also a type of Muslim attire. Writing of the Sherwani, a Quora contributor [op. cit., 24.05.2017] writes: “… But Hindus just copied our fashion… Still, most of Indians take pride on [their] Sherwani more than their ‘traditional’ dhoti”.
Thus, and to the extent that what the above commentator states is accurate, we may say that Hindus have generally replaced their “traditional” Dhoti with both the Salwar Kameez and the Sherwani. The same commentator continues: “Most Hindus are opting to wear Sherwani in wedding than their traditional dhoti or something”. The reference to weddings is to be noted: the Sherwani is usually worn on formal, traditional occasions.
The popularity of the Sherwani in an area such as East Ham is clear, especially given the network of clothes outlets that sell this type of garment; customer comments further verify such popularity [this would not necessarily mean that customers are all satisfied with the quality of Sherwanis sold in many East Ham stores].
A customer who visited the Daminis store writes: “Loved the selection of Sherwani’s [sic] Daminis stocked”. In contrast, yet another customer expresses disappointment with the quality of this garment available at Daminis – the reviewer writes: “Average quality of Sherwanis. Lals across the road is much better”. Lals, by the way, is a clothes shop located within the East Shopping Centre [Unit 3-5]. Customer reviews on this outlet inform us that it deals in “wedding shirvani” [sic]. Quite a number of customers who have bought a Sherwani at Lals have likewise been disappointed – one commentator writes: “The worst place ever… Will not return my deposit paid for a shirwani [sic] they messed up and denying acknowledgement of it…”
J. Junaid Jamshed is also another store that deals in Sherwanis – as we shall elsewhere observe, the assistants of this store are said to take great care in “guiding” and informing customers on the styles and materials of the different Sherwanis they stock – there seems to be great variation as to the design, cut, intricacy and embroidery of a Sherwani.
Bombay Fashion Exclusive [cf. above] is itself said to sell “Beautiful… Sherwanis”.
Finally, one may find various collections of Sherwanis in the East Shopping Centre. One such upmarket collection is the “Vanshik” brand – the Shopping Centre’s website writes: “Vanshik is a heritage menswear brand with a 30-year history of pioneering Sherwani… designs” [cf. https://www.vanshik.online]. The website does not mention which particular “Units” in the Centre deal in such collections.
- The Anarkali Churidar
The Anarkali suit is basically a form of women’s dress originating from the Lahore city, now in Pakistan. Being a suit, it obviously has a top and a bottom part.
Regarding the top, https://www.strandofsilk.com writes: “An anarkali is a dress-like garment that consists of a long frock style top which creates a flattering flowing silhouette…” Regarding the bottom part, the same source continues: “Churidars are the bottoms that usually accompany the top frock style top. Churidars are so called because traditionally they are long length and gather around the feet of the wearer forming Chudi’s (Bangles) in the fabric. In more modern times, churidar is often used generically to include all types of bottoms that accompany the top” [my emph.]. We need note here the “generic” use of the term “Churidar”, something which can – at least for the uninitiated – complicate whatever description of ethnic attire. The complexity is of course further compounded by the fact that as many other terms related to such attire are also of the “generic” type – and thus, for example, one may come across a garment that is referred to as “Churidar Salwar” or even “Anarkali Sherwani”, and so forth. We need to keep such complexities in mind as we attempt to undertake some sort of categorization of the ethnic attire being presented here.
High Street’s Choudhary Fashion [cf. above] is an example of an outlet that deals in Anarkali Churidar garments. In the Indian Business Directory, it announces: “We also sell Anarkali and Churidar Suits”.
A second example of a store selling the Anarkali Churidar suit, this time in Green Street, is Silk Rang. The store’s website informs us that it sells “Designer Anarkali”.
- The Choli Suit
Generally speaking, the Choli is a short-sleeved bodice or blouse worn beneath a Saree by Indian women, often exposing the midriff.
Further, and according to Wikipedia, “Gagra choli or ghagra choli, which is also known as lehenga choli and locally as chaniya choli, is the traditional clothing of women from the Indian subcontinent”. It is worn, inter alia, in places such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Nepal. The Gagra choli, it is said, is “a combination of the ‘gagra’ or ‘lehenga’ (long skirt) and the ‘choli’ (blouse)”.
Wikipedia informs us that “In Punjab it was traditionally worn with the kurti and salwar”. As regards the Kurti [also referred to as the Kurti top], we may note that this is an upper garment worn, again, in the Indian subcontinent, and it encompasses waistcoats, jackets and blouses [it is naturally also available in the East Ham outlets – for instance, Malika London announces that it stocks “Punjabi kurti tops”].
Very many outlets in the East Ham region proclaim that they stock Choli Suits, Lehengas and Ghagra Cholis. Non-Asians, we are told, tend to confuse these with the Saree. Writing of the Lehenga vis-à-vis the Saree, Madhu G., of Hyderabad’s National Institute of Fashion Technology, states at least one reason why such confusion arises: “Lehenga and Saree are two traditional women’s clothing items from India. These are timeless apparels that have been adorned by commoners and celebrities alike. Saree is more common than Lehenga that is worn on more on [sic] special occasions these days. There are many differences between these two garments but people become confused because of the similar looks created by a fusion style known as Lehenga Saree” [cf. Quora, 26.12.2017].
According to UK’s Indian Business Directory, one High Street store that deals in Choli Suits and/or Lehengas and/or Ghagra Cholis is East & West Clothing [cf. above].
Rangoli Designer Ladies Wear [at times referred to as Rangoli London Ltd.; 9 Plashet Grove, East Ham] is a “Trendy Indian Ladies Clothes Store… Specializing in… Lehenga and Choli Suits” [cf. the Directory, ibid.].
Silk Rang also deals in what it calls “Bridal Lenga” – we may note that the term “Lenga” is a variation of “Lehnga” or “Langa”, all three of which are the same as Lehengas.
Bridal Lehengas are also available at 6 Kumars Silk House [cf., inter alia, DesiVala, a community website for Indians living in London, https://www.desivala.com].
The East Shopping Centre’s Zarkan of London also deals in Bridal Lehengas – one customer tells us: “We basically ordered a bridal lengha from there…”, and goes on to describe her “abysmal” experience regarding both the quality of the garment and the service offered at the outlet [we shall be discussing such issues below].
A customer of Doli London [cf. above] informs us that “I had my lengha custom [presumably meaning costume] made in a week” [we note that the garment in this case was not simply bought, but actually “made” – we shall be discussing the very important implications of this further below].
Finally, and according to a customer of the Bombay Fashion Exclusive store, “Beautiful Lehengas… are sold there, do recommend purchasing from there, once you get in there you have to buy something because of how nicely displayed they [the Lehengas, amongst other items] are!”
- The Kurta
Above, we have made reference to both the “Kurta” [as in Kurta Pyjamas, over which a Sherwani may be worn]] and the “Kurti” [as in Kurti top, an upper garment which may be worn with the Choli Suit]. Apparently, these two items are not the same thing. The primary difference between Kurta and Kurti, it is said, is nothing more than their lengths. Kurta are normally long, typically knee-, calf- or ankle-length, whereas a Kurti is often short, measuring at waist- or hip-length [cf. https://www.indian-fashion-kurtis.com]. The Kurta is generally described as a loose, collarless shirt, and is worn in many regions of South Asia – it is as popular in UK’s “Little India”.
The popularity of the Kurta in the East Ham area is obvious, at least judging by the number of local customers who have either bought it or have gone around shops in search of it. One local, for instance, went around shops along Green Street trying to find “a Kurta Pyjama (menswear)” – while the Mahir store would disappoint this potential customer, he/she would finally find the appropriate Kurta “literally 2 shops down [the road]”.
Poshak Mahal is one store that sells the Kurta – one customer describes this outlet as follows: “Great shop for Pakistani Kurta and menswear”.
Finally, we may also state that the East Shopping Centre – or, rather, particular “Units” located therein – sells what are described as “pioneering… Kurta designs”.
- The Kaftan
The Kaftan, of Asian origin, is a variant of the robe or tunic which has often been worn as a coat or as an overdress, usually having sleeves and reaching to the ankles.
It is a garment that is quite similar to both the Kurta and the Kurti – nowadays, in fact, one may even come across a fusion of all three types of garment. Thus, East Ham stores might present such class of apparel as Kaftan Kurta or Kaftan Kurti. And yet, there is a certain difference between a Kaftan and the Kurta/Kurti type of garment. Manish D. Mishra, writing in DNA India – and with special reference to the Kurti vis-à-vis the Kaftan – explains their difference as follows: “The kurti has two basic appeals – it could be formal or semi-formal while the kaftan falls into a grey area. Also, a kaftan doesn’t have the history and weight like that of a kurti” [cf. “Style debate: Kurti vs Kaftan”, https://www.dnaindia.com, updated 13.05.2017]. It may be said that, given this relative absence of “history” and “weight”, the Kaftan has usually been more of a “practical” garment – it has even been said to be a “utilitarian” type of apparel [ibid.]. It is perhaps for this reason that Sujata Assomull, in an article published in The Hindu, rather vaguely asserts that “The kaftan is as, if not more, flexible than the kurta” [cf. “The return of the kaftan”, https://www.thehindu, 22.05.2020]. He goes on to imply the “utilitarian” nature of the Kaftan when he explains its usage through the years – he writes: “Growing up, many of us may have seen our mothers and grandmothers wear kaftans as housecoats” [ibid.]. The “flexibility” that Assomull sees in the Kaftan is a kind of versatility as to the different occasions in which it may be worn nowadays – from informal wear around the house to occasions expressive of “haute” fashion styles.
From a historical perspective, we may very briefly state that the Kaftan was originally worn by Arab traders in Southeast Asia. Religious communities that were in the process of formation as Islam became established in the area were to gradually adopt this style of dress as their own distinguishing feature.
There are many stores around the East Ham area that deal in Kaftans – we merely mention just one example, that of the Malika London store within the East Shopping Centre.
- Asian and Tamil jewellery
Many of the garments presented above can, of course, be accompanied – depending on the formality or otherwise of the occasion – by different types of accessories. These may include pieces of ethnic jewellery. Rasam Gayatri Silks [cf. above], for instance, deals in specifically Tamil-type jewellery, as does Manor Park’s 6 Kumars Silk House. Aron Jewellers, located along East Ham’s High Street North [exact street address has not been identified], is a store specializing in specifically Asian wedding jewellery, including ethnic bracelets, necklaces, bangles and rings. By the way, this latter outlet had been raided in 2012 by a gang of young Pakistanis, stealing £600.000 worth of jewels – this event being fairly indicative of the vulnerability of such stores to criminal activity in the area [cf. Melissa York, “Robbers take £600.000 worth of jewellery from East Ham store”, Newham Recorder, https://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk, 13.06.2012].
We shall end this sub-section on ethnic attire by making some general observations on the topic, though much of what we shall be noting must already be obvious from what has been presented above.
Ethnic attire is of course worn on a daily basis by many members of East Ham’s various “cultural clusters” – that much is fairly obvious as one walks around the locality. And yet, and at least from a purely economic perspective, the “major market” seems to be in the field of wedding-related outfits and wedding-related accessories [and which brings us back to Parminder Bhachu’s so-called “wedding economy”, op. cit.]. We may here present a number of outlets in the East Ham area which typically deal in wedding-related or engagement-related attire [we have already presented quite a number of such cases as we surveyed the various categories of ethnic attire available in the locality]:
High Street’s East & West Clothing, it has been stated above, deals generally in “special occasion clothes” – such occasions include, and most probably above all, weddings and engagements.
Daminis, which – as we have seen – deals a lot in Saree bridal outfits, is almost certainly an outlet that simply cannot be overlooked when some young member of East Ham “cultural clusters” decides to get married. Very many Daminis customers either purchase or have intended purchasing their wedding outfits from this particular department store [not all customers, however, have been satisfied with the quality of such outfits].
We have noted above that Zarkan deals in Bridal Lehengas. There are many customer reviews informing us that one important aspect in the planning of a wedding celebration in the East Ham locality also includes visiting this outlet – elsewhere, we shall be discussing the “stress” locals experience in trying to select their most appropriate bridal outfit at the Zarkan store.
Rangoli Designer Ladies Wear, the store located in East Ham’s Plashet locality [cf. above], is also said to specialize in “Bridal Dresses, Wedding Gowns”.
The 6 Kumars Silk House store, which – as already noted – deals in Bridal Sarees and Bridal Lehengas, presents itself as an outlet selling “Indian Bride and Groom Clothes… Specializing in Men & Women Wedding and Bridal Collection[s], [and] Bridal Gowns…”
Shiffonz along Green Street sells what is known as “nikkah” dresses [the term “nikkah” or “nikah”, of course, refers to the Muslim marriage ceremony]. One customer review, taken as a sample, reads as follows: “I went in yesterday to look for my nikkah clothes, so I picked three outfits to try one… [etc.]”.
A customer of the Doli London store notes: “… In love with my bridal outfit and would definitely recommend all brides to buy from them!” This expression of “love” with respect to the ethnic bridal outfit in question is a sentiment one often comes across in East Ham-related customer reviews. Doli London deals in a range of attire associated with ethnic weddings – one such is the Mehndi outfit. With respect to the latter, another customer writes: “… I chose both my bridal and Mendhi [meaning Mehndi] outfit from the same place…” Mehndi, by the way – also referred to as Henna – is a party held for most Muslim brides in the Middle East and South Asia [though not exclusively limited to this religious grouping]. It is similarly reproduced amongst East Ham’s “cultural clusters”, be these Muslim, Hindu or [even] Sikh. A Mehndi party is usually celebrated with close women friends and family a few days before the wedding ceremony itself. It is said that the most “generic” Mehndi outfits are special Salwar or Punjabi suits prepared specifically for this pre-wedding celebration.
One final example of a store selling bridal outfits in the area of East Ham is that of RDC London [246 Green Street]. The outlet, which is presented as a “Bride and Groom Shop”, is well-known for its RDC brand. According to the Knotify website: “At RDC London brides have a full consultation to ascertain their exact requirements before the design work begins. With a full experience at your disposal, Rashid Malik [founder and designer] can create a piece that is as unique as you are. All bridalwear is skillfully hand-finished and uses only the finest Swarovski crystals [laboratory-created diamonds]” [cf. https://www.knotify.co.uk; cf. also: https://www.rdc-online.com]. Obviously, this outlet must certainly belong to the upmarket category of clothes shops – and yet, one regular customer has this to say about her purchasing experience at the RDC’s Green Street branch [there are two other branches]: “Terrible service! Me and my sisters purchased bridesmaids dresses for around £100…” She goes on to explain why the service was “terrible” [we shall return to this type of issue below].
Now, while it is said that the so-called “wedding economy” constitutes the “major market” in localities such as East Ham, this would not mean that stores selling garments for formal occasions do not also deal in a range of casual ethnic-based attire. Take, for instance, Malika London: while – as we have seen above – this store sells “the very best” in formal garments for “discerning women”, it also deals in informal or semi-formal attire. The store goes on to promote its stock as follows: “… a range of fabrics, colours and styles from casual to semi-formal are on offer, with various accessories to complete the outfit”. We have not been able, however, to find statistics for the UK which compare the size of the ethnic “wedding economy” vis-à-vis that for casual clothes.
Price ranges for ethnic attire in the area of East Ham
In our discussion of clothes stores along Green Street, we had noted that – according to at least one customer – this is “the cheapest shopping street in London” [op. cit.]. Obviously, however, the question of how one evaluates the price of a product is highly subjective – it all depends on one’s personal buying power, comparative experiences as a consumer, the value one personally attaches to a particular product, and so on. Thus, yet another customer – this time with reference to East Ham’s Indian clothes shops generally [but including those along Green Street] – writes: “I would say sari and Indian material is not necessarily cheap – may be I’m spoilt for choice as husband comes from Malaysia and loads cheaper there [sic]” [cf. https://www.tripadvisor.com, op. cit.].
Writing of “ethnic dresses” sold at Green Street’s J. Junaid Jamshed store, a customer feels that “they are on the pricier side”. Similarly, Indian and Pakistani dresses sold at Zarkan of London can be somewhat beyond the buying power of at least some locals – one writes [albeit rather ambiguously]: “Price is a little bit more than outside [my buying power]…”
Thus far, all such comments seem to suggest a certain difficulty in purchasing various items of clothing – but the economic difficulty does not appear to be insurmountable. On the other hand, we do have a longish list of customer reviews that definitely point to “overpriced” or “very expensive” products. Consider the following sample cases:
- A customer review of Bombay Looks [162 Green Street, Upton Park, and cf. its website, https://www.bombaylooksdirect.com] informs us as follows regarding both the quality of the store’s stocks and the accompanying prices – he/she simply writes that everything is “Over priced and nothing special”. Here, however, we need to keep in mind the subjectivity of the commentator – we shall see that directly opposite impressions have also been expressed with respect to this outlet [impressions regarding prices could relate to buying power, but not so as regards product quality].
- Poshak Mahal, according to one customer, is said to be “Typically very expensive”. The customer, however, is not suggesting that all East Ham clothes shops are likewise expensive – he/she continues: “if you shop few shops away, same product far cheaper than them”. A second reviewer confirms the apparently unreasonable prices of Poshak Mahal – its outfits are said to be “Overpriced for what they are”. We have a similar confirmation from a third reviewer – garments are reported to be “Overpriced and unbranded”. A final sample review of this store reads as follows: “Huge selection of fabrics, however very expensive. Paid £80 for two yards of fabric, was later told by a friend that the exact same is available elsewhere for a fraction of the price”. It should nonetheless again be pointed out that directly contrasting impressions have also been recorded regarding the price ranges at Poshak Mahal.
- SSR Textiless London [244 High Street North, Manor Park, and cf. its website, https://www.ssrtextileless.com; cf. also its Facebook Page], which deals in Lehengas, Salwars, Saree Blouses and Kurta Sets, is also reported to be an expensive outlet. According to at least one customer, all its garments are “overpriced, avoid”.
- Yet another store that is apparently expensive is Daminis. There are quite a number of customer reviews that clearly point to such a possibility. One customer simply states: “Too expensive”. A second reviewer contrasts Daminis prices for various outfits to those of other outlets in the area – and writes: “Unbelievably high prices for outfits on sale in lots of other shops at a fraction of the price” [this quote is slightly ambiguous: we cannot say for certain which outlet it is – Daminis or its competitors – that offers its products at discount prices; be that as it may, the Daminis store itself is said to be “unbelievably” expensive]. A third reviewer also writes of Daminis as a relatively expensive outlet, but goes on to provide an explanation for this: “… They might not be the cheapest, but they are definitely one of the best when compared to their rivals. Many floors and many styles to choose from…” It is of much interest to note here that buying expensive clothes is not necessarily – or at least not always – limited to those with a standard buying power, and which would imply that one’s class position does not always directly reflect on how much money one may spend on clothes. Thus, in her interview with Parminder Bhachu, the owner of the Daminis outlet – Mrs. Damini – relates an occasion where a Punjabi Muslim couple had purchased items well beyond their means. Bhachu writes: “This couple had bought outfits worth £3.000. They were not rich, she [Mrs. Damini] told me, but really ‘good-at-heart people’…” [cf. Dangerous Designs, op. cit., p. 104].
We have presented the above stores as sample cases of what may be said to constitute the segment of East Ham’s “expensive” clothing market. At the same time, we have also suggested that the evaluation of a product’s price can be very much subjective. The question of subjectivity is fairly rampant throughout customer reviews – the case of Bombay Looks [cf. above] is all too representative. We have read that this store dealt in products which were both “over priced” and “nothing special”. But now consider the following customer review regarding the selfsame outlet: “First class service, reasonable priced… Others find it expensive, yes, they do have expensive items but it’s your choice to buy it or not”. Similarly, yet another reviewer notes: “Brilliant new designs great value for money excellent customer service”. A final review sample tells us a completely different story with respect to product prices at Bombay Looks – we read: “Very good for quality clothing and reasonable prices”.
Subjective evaluation of prices is also evident in the case of Poshak Mahal – above, we had presented four customer reviews all of which confirmed the impression that the outlet is “very expensive”. We may now contrast this to the following customer review, presenting this clothes store in a completely different light: “Poshak Mahal is a budget clothes shop”. It may be said, in fact, that the vast majority of clothes stores in the locality are exactly this type – viz. run-of-the-mill budget shops – and which are reflective of the economic status of a great number of its residents [the question of poverty shall be discussed below].
The apparent prevalence of the budget shop is more or less confirmed by customer reviews that typically refer to the “reasonable prices” of many outlets. We have already discussed, for instance, the case of Green Street’s Mahir store – like so many others, it usually deals in plain and simple Sarees, always “at a reasonable price” [cf. above].
Very different prices ranges are nonetheless available to suit the different categories of consumer capacity in the locality. We may here consider some samples of such price ranges.
- Prices at the East Shopping Centre generally:
The price for bridalwear can range from £1.130.00 to £3.390.00 and more.
Women’s garments can range from £560.00 to £2.240.00 and more.
Menswear can range from £80.00 to £320.00 and more.
- Prices at Bombay Looks:
The price for Sarees can range from £20.00 to £89.00.
Salwar Kameez and related suits can range from £15.00 to £79.00.
Bangles can range from £5.00 to £12.00.
Accessories such as arm bands, hair combs and side tikka are sold at up to £5.00.
- Prices at SSR Textiles London [cf. above]:
Prices for Lehengas range from £270.00 to £590.00.
Salwar suits range from £20.00 to £580.00.
Sarees range from £30.00 to £90.00.
Saree blouses range from £20.00 to £30.00.
Regarding menswear, Kurta Sets range from £30.00 to £140.00.
Men’s shirts range from £20.00 to £40.00.
Men’s Veshti [similar to the Dhoti, cf. above] range from £20.00 to £30.00.
- Prices at Silk Rang [prices here in euro]:
A Lengha – as this store’s website [op. cit.] at times refers to Lehengas – is sold at €241.95.
Prices for the Abaya cloak range from €80.95 to €113.95.
Sarees range from €46.95 to €223.95.
Prices, and the question of “customer exploitation”
Customer’s evaluation of prices, we have observed, must often be taken with a pinch of salt, given their subjectivity. This would also apply to customer’s unreserved complaints or insinuations that they have, in some way or other, been “exploited” by store owners. Examining samples of “customer exploitation” may nonetheless give us some idea of how members of ethnic groups in East Ham may often feel about ethnic-owned clothes enterprises. However subjective such sentiments may be, they remain a stated fact of life.
A customer of Green Street’s Poshak Mahal informs us that, unless one is a regular shopper, he/she may fall prey to different forms of “customer exploitation” – very simply, the person could be overcharged or in some way swindled. Irregular customers are said to be “an easy target”. The reviewer goes on to insinuate that this is a common practice amongst Green Street outlets generally.
There are quite a number of more specific customer reviews that describe dealings at Poshak Mahal as constituting a “Rip-off”.
With respect to Bombay Fashion Exclusive, a shopper writes that its owners are “a conning people”. While the garment sold to this particular customer turned out to be defective, the owners refused any refunding. He/she further complains that “We lost our deposit of £100 which is more than half [the price of the garment]”.
Bombay Fashion Exclusive has been accused of “customer exploitation” by yet another customer – we read: “Deceiving owner and awful service. Owner was dishonest and sold me a dress that was too big. I asked for a size 34 but a size 36 was given to me. They don’t stock 34 so they deliberately deceived me just so that I would make a purchase. At the time of purchase the owner promised that should the dress not fit I can exchange it or have a refund as I was not allowed to try it in the shop. I returned home and realized that the dress in the bag was a size 36 which was too big, the next day I returned to the shop to return the dress. I was refused a refund and in order to have a dress in my size I must pay him another £9 to get it altered. It’s so awful that I was deceived and sold the wrong dress, on top of it all. I was forced to pay more money just to have the original dress that I purchased. Please do not visit! This shop is dishonest!” [my emph.].
A third customer of Bombay Fashion Exclusive confirms the complaint that people have to pay an extra fee for alterations – he/she writes: “… [A] few things do get muddled up such as things like paying extra money for tailoring…”
A so-called “easy target” is also the type of shopper who does not seem to know exactly what it is that he wishes to purchase – a fourth customer at Bombay Fashion Exclusive puts it as follows: “Felt taken advantage of not knowing what I needed for an Indian wedding”.
A final customer review of Bombay Fashion Exclusive explains that its owners make use of ethno-religious “festive seasons” to overcharge local shoppers – the reviewer writes: “… and I also overpaid for what the garments are worth. I will never shop here again, it’s disgusting how these merchants are ripping people off during the festive season. This is why your business will never flourish”. While such a complaint may be an accurate observation of what could be occurring during “festive seasons” in East Ham, we also need to note that ethno-religious festivals are occasions when many clothes shops sell their items at discount prices. As we shall further discuss below, a store such as Reva’s Fashions [cf. above] sells garments such as Sarees at 50% discount prices during the Hindu Diwali festival [or the “festival of lights”, celebrated in the October-November period].
The Zarkan of London store has also been accused of “customer exploitation”. A shopper complains as follows: “Absolutely disgusting place and horrible experience! These people played a game at us and completely mugged us off with our ordered [sic]. We ordered a dress 3 months in advance to find out it was not ready, the workers kept tint to our faces [the latter phrase seems incomprehensible, unless it means ‘messed up’ in slang]... Do not bother going to the place these people will mug you off and mess you around”.
Another customer, also with reference to Zarkan of London, notes: “Ordered a saree from them mid February [year not mentioned]. I went back to the shopping centre only to see the shop has closed down. The[y] took all the money… Complete scam”. We cannot confirm whether or not Zarkan of London has actually closed down – an entry on the Asiana Wedding Directory [cf. https://www.asianaweddingdirectory.co.uk, 2020] seems to indicate otherwise.
Bombay Looks also has a branch at Ilford. An East Ham resident visited this outlet and had this to say: “Went to the Ilford branch to exchange a suit for a larger size. The sales assistant was very rude and even though the dress was exactly the same, he insisted I pay an extra £4. WTH”.
Finally, one also comes across customer reviews critical of the practices at Daminis. The store’s owners, it is said, exploit the fact that their enterprise has a long history of service to the community, using this as a pretext to overcharge customers. One reviewer notes: “… their prices are extortionate… not because their clothes are better than anyone else’s… but simply because of their name. This is a perfect example of a name can only carry you so far if you don’t have the goods and quality to back it up! [sic] The competition [meaning the store’s competitors] are all selling the same things at half the price!”
We have observed above that many outlets have often refused customers a refund – it is impossible for us to ascertain whether or not customer complaints on this issue are justified. But it is only fair to note that there are at least some clothes stores that do abide by a refund policy. Apparently, J. Junaid Jamshed is one such case – one of its customers informs us that “at least they have a return policy”. Zarkan of London is yet another example where the policy applies – one of its customers admits: “We managed to get a full deposit refund”.
We shall end this sub-section on what we have termed “customer exploitation” with a caveat. While it may be true that East Ham residents may often fall prey to swindling and overcharging at clothes shops, it is also as true that ethnic minorities – and especially as regards Indian “settlers” – are very much adept at bargaining with shop owners. Generally speaking, they have been described as “bargaining-prone customers” [cf., for instance, J. Dawra, K. Katyal and V. Gupta, “Can you do something about the price? – Exploring the Indian deal and bargaining-prone customer”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, August 2015]. Thus, it is quite characteristic of an East Ham local to advise his compatriots on how to do one’s shopping as follows [cf. https://www.tripadvisor.com, op.cit.]: “Also when you go clothes/fabric shopping… make sure you barter – do not pay full ticket price. I was there only yesterday and managed to save 35% on ticket prices” [my emph.].
The quality of the merchandise
We shall now consider the quality of the ethnic attire sold in the stores of the East Ham area. All of what shall be presented here is based exclusively on customer experiences and sentiments.
One customer review gives us a general, subjective assessment of the quality of the merchandise sold along Green Street. Having visited the J. Junaid Jamshed store, he/she observes: “Far better collection than the rest of the Green Street [stores]”. And, with special reference to J. Junaid Jamshed, adds: “Great collection for both men/women”.
Many would disagree with the above assessment – we have seen above how quite a number of locals have expressed a rather deep, sentimental loyalty towards Doli London, which is also along Green Street.
Be that as it may, very many customer reviews can actually be all too negative about the quality of merchandise sold both at Green Street and High Street North. A local who had bought an outfit from Green Street’s Bombay Looks would write the following [and in direct contrast to some positive reviews on the outlet, as we have seen in discussing prices]: “Awful material. Very scratchy and badly stitched. Do not buy from here. The blouse sleeve was very very itchy. The whole outfit was not as shown in the picture”. It is possible that this reviewer wishes to compare Bombay Fashions with outlets such as J. Junaid Jamshed or Doli London, when he/she adds: “There are way better shops in Green Street”.
A customer of Green Street’s Mahir can be both scathingly critical of the outlet, while at the same time lauding its collections – we read: “Hygiene is awful. Clothes are dirty, un-sewed. But most colourful and has wide selection”.
Abru Classics [259 Green Street] is yet another store that has received critical reviews on the quality of its stock. One customer complains that “the gems [i.e. stones embellishing a dress, as in a Stonework Saree, cf. above] fall off as soon as you wear it [the dress]”. It is interesting to note that, in direct response to this complaint, the store’s owner-manager would take the initiative to respond to the customer – this is what he writes: “… we are sorry u found some stones coming off, we take every care to provide our customers the product in the best of quality but as it is man made items so some lapses can happen…”
Another customer of Abru Classics, while generally expressing positive impressions about the outlet’s garments, nonetheless addresses the same problem regarding stonework on dresses – he/she writes: “Very good place to shop for fancy Indian dress and dress pieces, but wish they’d use better glue for their stones, quality could be a lot better”. The owner-manager would again respond, this time as follows: “Thanx a lot for ur appreciation, we hv taken appropriate measures in regards to ur complain [sic]… hope problem will b rectified on priority basis”.
Shiffonz is another store that has received negative reviews – one of its customers has the following series of complaints about the garments she had bought from this outlet: “… The outfits I purchased do not last more then [sic] 2 uses, stitching fall apart and the colour fades after a wash…”
Many customers complain that at least some clothes shops sell garments that are “dated”, in the sense that their styles are outmoded or old-fashioned. The SSR Textiles London store, according to one review, does not stock “fashionable garments” and “all items look very dated”. Similarly, we have noted above how the Mahir store has been criticized for not having “updated their latest clothing range”, here with reference to Abayas.
Related to the issue of outmoded garments, there is also the problem of some stores selling unbranded attire [which is of course much cheaper than clothes sold under big brand names]. Poshak Mahal is one case which is said to deal in unbranded Pakistani garments [cf. above] – this is one reason why, according to some customers, the outlet does not stock “the greatest selection of clothes compared to the many others on Green Street” [as one representative customer review puts it]. Generally speaking, one has the sense that Poshak Mahal – like quite a number of clothes shops in the locality – is no longer what it used to be, at least in terms of the quality of brands it once stocked. One sample customer review observes: “Quality and design of the outfits are not what they use [sic] to be”.
The Daminis enterprise is likewise accused of no longer being what it was in the past. A customer observes: “They used to be the benchmark for Asian designer clothes shops in London… now they are a bunch of markets and other shops inside!” A second reviewer makes the exact same point – the enterprise, he/she asserts, is a “Shell of its former self, literally”. For a third sample customer, the quality of Daminis stock [and especially as regards Sarees] seems to encompass most of the problems touched on above – his/her review reads as follows: “Daminis sarees are third class sarees. I bought a saree from them when I opened the saree at home the glitters [or stones] are automatically fallen on floor… Their sarees like out market sarees. So awful. Boycott Daminis!”
The quality of merchandise that has finally come to be sold by East Ham clothes shops must be understood in the context of a race to survive the devastating impact of the 2008 financial crisis. While some stores could still continue concentrating on collections of “luxury apparel” meant for the upper-middle classes, others had to adjust and redirect their sales strategies in a manner that mostly catered for the minimalist needs of the popular masses belonging to various “cultural clusters”. Thus, while some outlets were able to maintain the original quality of their products, others had to downgrade such quality – many, as in the case of Daminis or Poshak Mahal, were to be reduced to a “shell” of their former selves, at least according to some customer reviews.
It is well beyond our intentions here to examine the precise ramifications of such crisis with respect to ethnic-based clothes shops in the area of East Ham and its environs. We may, nonetheless, keep certain very basic facts in mind. Firstly, and according to Neil Wrigley and Dionysia Lambiri, “The shockwave of global financial crisis tore through UK town centres and high streets in 2008 with dramatic effect. Consumer confidence collapsed and remained stubbornly negative for the next five years… Households saw growth in real gross disposable incomes slow markedly… as increases in inflation outstripped rises in average pay”. And further: “… fragile consumer confidence helped push many retailers… into liquidation” [cf. “British High Streets: from crisis to recovery?”, University of Southampton, https://www.thegreatbritishhighstreet.co.uk, March 2015, pp. 6-7]. Clothes shops were the retail outlets hardest hit – according to the House of Commons Library: “Since 2007, the retail sector with the most stores affected by company failures has been the clothing sector, accounting for 25% of all stores affected” [cf. Chris Rhodes, “Retail sector in the UK”, Briefing Paper Number SNO6186, 29.10.2018, p. 8].
Shops that were to survive the crisis had to adjust in some way – adjustment, however, could have its price, and especially when that meant downgrading the quality of one’s stock. For a certain category of locals, such downgrading would come to be accepted – it simply reflected their diminished buying power. For other segments, the degrading would literally infuriate them – we have noted how one Daminis customer would go so far as to call for the boycotting of the enterprise. Generally, in any case, locals would resignedly take to contrasting the quality of a store’s clothes sold in the past to the downgraded quality sold in the present. With respect to Mehndi – and despite the fact that this store has always been considered upmarket [cf. above] – a customer would write: “Used to be the place to go. Kind of fallen behind the competition at the moment”.
In this sub-section, we shall be presenting snapshots of customer service in the clothes shops of the locality. All customer comments and circumstances described below can only but be of a subjective nature, but these do help in giving us some impression of the real life that goes on in these outlets – and thus one aspect of the real life in East Ham itself. Some of these snapshots are positive; others can be scathingly negative. Both dimensions need to be taken for what they are – viz. manifestations of the contradictory nature of much of social activity. We shall also be focusing on customer service as carried out by ethnic members of staff, and consider the possible implications of this, at least as regards relations within “cultural clusters” themselves.
The positive side
A local commenting on customer service at Poshak Mahal initially expresses the simple impression that there is a “lack of service” in the store, adding that such a situation is “often the case in Green Street”. What is of interest, however, is that the reviewer goes on to clarify that such “lack of service” does not at all apply to “known wedding shoppers”. One may thus draw the general conclusion that at least one category of regular customers in the Green Street part of the locality does, in fact, receive a favourable service.
Writing about Bombay Looks, a customer expresses his absolutely positive impression of the store, especially as regards service – we read: “One of my wife’s favourite shops, has a good selection of Asian clothes and the service is excellent very polite and welcoming and helpful”.
The Shiffonz store has also received positive reviews on its customer service – one customer writes as follows: “Visited the Green Street branch [of] Shiffonz yesterday my favourite shop in Green Street managed to choose my… outfit thanks to the very helpful [shop assistant]”.
As has been noted above in our discussion of Sherwanis, the shop assistants of J. Junaid Jamshed are said to be very assiduous in helping customers make the right choice of garment – a reviewer notes: “Outstanding and friendly customer service. Omar [either the owner-manager or a shop assistant] was a great help in guiding and showing me various Sherwanis and answering all my questions”. Another customer confirms such positive impression: “Excellent customer service. I was served by Ali and Ayesha and both were very welcoming and friendly… The store was also well laid out and the clothes and perfumes were very nice…” A third customer is yet again very positive as to customer service at Green Street’s J. Junaid Jamshed store – he/she, however, contrasts such positive customer service to that of the store’s Ilford Lane branch. The reviewer writes: “… It [the Green Street store] was a breath of fresh air compared to our experience with [the] JJ store on Ilford Lane the same day which left us feeling very disappointed… the Ilford Lane store need to seriously take some tips on how to treat your customers from these guys!...” The astounding richness of human subjectivity is, however, endless – yet another local feels altogether otherwise about the J. Junaid Jamshed branch at Ilford Lane, saying that “[The] Ilford Lane branch is fantastic with brilliant customer service!”
There are very many reviews on customer service that are both positive and negative all at the same time, and are thus typical of subjective ambiguity. One local, writing about Poshak Mahal, tells us that “Service is lacking, they barely speak to you”. The customer then immediately goes on to add the following observation on the question of service: “… but otherwise it’s quick and efficient”. We cannot say whether this particular customer is one of those “known wedding shoppers” to which the staff of Poshak Mahal practice a certain favouritism.
The negative side
We may begin presenting the negative side of impressions by quoting a local who makes the following general statement regarding most Asian clothes shops in the area – he/she tells us that acceptable customer service “is not what you typically find in Asian clothes stores from my experience”. For this commentator, the vast majority of East Ham stores are neither “welcoming” nor “friendly”.
In direct contrast to the very many positive impressions regarding J. Junaid Jamshed’s customer service, one local writes: “Very bad customer service! The lady working there (was told she’s the manager) had no manners whatsoever… she was very rude and abrupt… the environment is not friendly at all… very judgmental atmosphere!...”
The Shiffonz store is yet another case which has also had its negative reviews regarding its service – one of its customers notes: “Bad customer service. I was in the shop and the lady that ‘owns’ the shop told me to get my feet off the glass [the writer fails to explain further] which was very understandable… [However,] she was very abrupt and rude… You do not call that customer service, even if she thought I was rude she could’ve approached me in a more professional way as I was very minimal and literally minded my business as I felt the tension. So unprofessional…” Another customer, who had been trying on clothes at Shiffonz in an attempt to choose “nikkah” outfits for herself, has this to relate: “… one [member of] staff in particular was so damn rude she kept rolling her eyes and kept rushing me, when I explained this is for an occasion I need to try on these outfits and see which one fits best. The staff member on the shop floor kept stating are you going to buy this or not we have another customer, I felt shocked because I usually purchase a lot of clothes from Shiffonz”.
A customer at Zarkan of London writes about this store’s “disrespectful” shop assistants – we read that a member of its staff “accused my friend of taking pictures [of the outlet’s clothes] when actually she was sending messages and shouted at her in front of other customers which was absolutely disgusting. My friend was very embarrassed and upset by this so walked out. The other assist[ant] tried pulling the outfit scarf off me…”
We had noted above the “stress” that many locals experience at the Zarkan store when trying to select a bridal outfit – one such local notes: “… Dealing with this shop was by far the most stressful aspect of planning my whole wedding”. Another customer gives us a rather detailed description of her experience at Zarkan in trying to buy a bridal Lehenga – this is what the local writes: “We basically ordered [the bridal outfit]… from here. A couple of weeks later I went into [the] store to show my sister what we had ordered, but the sample one I had tried on wasn’t in the shop anymore. However when we were walking up the stairs, I saw the exact outfit at the bottom in a box. At the time I didn’t think anything of it and assumed it was another client’s order. However when it came to trying on my outfit, I realized it was actually the sample dress I had tried on at the shop! The lengha had snags all over (just like the one I tried), the blouse was also the same one! I had asked for [the] neckline to be changed but all they did was add extra material on the top! It looked hideous! I also asked for the sleeves to be longer length but it was the exact same length that I had tried on! The excuses they came up with especially… [reference to a particular shop assistant]… She wouldn’t even answer the phone and when she did she said she was the manager. Then when I said I’d be popping into [the] store to make a complaint she said the shop was closed, bearing in mind it was a Sunday and they’re open on weekends! All in all, the experience has been abysmal! Please stay away from them! They do not care about you! All they want is the money! And then hand you over an outfit that’s in fact the sample one in store that has been tried on by lots of people!... Nothing bespoke at all! Literally a joke! Hopefully they will get what’s coming…”
Locals have also been complaining about “unhelpful staff” at the Mahir store – one writes of Green Street outlets generally, but then specifically refers to Mahir: “The area has lots of shops selling men and women Indian wear. This place [Mahir] doesn’t need your money as their staff are unhelpful”. The particular local had requested Mahir staff to provide him/her with information regarding the Kurta Pyjama, and the only response – on the part of shop assistants – was that they had “murmured something in Hindu”.
Customers of SSR Textiles London have complained that members of staff are not merely unhelpful, they are also conceited – one local writes: “The sales ladies I believe are the owners daughters are damn rude and arrogant”. Further, the customer states that the shop’s sales ladies “are not busy”, perhaps insinuating in this way that they do not offer their practical assistance to potential clients.
The absence of practical assistance has also been noted in the case of Bombay Looks, although we need bear in mind that this store – in particular – has received a series of very contradictory reviews. One customer complains about the store’s service, though directs his/her grievance exclusively at management – we read: “Awful customer service from the managers at this store! They sit around on their phones not paying attention, sending other staff to attend the issue instead”.
Bombay Fashion Exclusive is a store that has come under especially heavy criticism regarding its service. One customer complains about “how long you have to wait for tailoring”. Another insinuates service inefficiency by simply describing the defects of a Salwar Kameez bought at this store: “The sizes of the top and bottoms are completely on a different scale of size. The labels are written both as the same size but the bottoms are a lot smaller in size than the salwar kameez. Regret buying this item”. A third customer, this time not a local, similarly complains about the size of the garment he/she had been sold: “I’m absolutely disgusted, went in and got presents for my father and told them I was coming from afar. I requested size 42 and they gave a massive size in the bag…” We have yet a fourth customer who also expresses dissatisfaction about matters related to garment size – we read: “Worst place to shop. We place an [sic] large order which he [either the owner or a shop assistant] took measurements for. One month later our order arrived and the measurements were wrong. We asked him for… a… correction of our clothes. The guy got really aggressive, started swearing and threating [sic] us. He raised his voice and was speaking all sorts of rubbish. He basically accepted blame without caring or willing to do anything. Claiming it is our fault he got the measurements wrong. This place doesn’t deserve any money or customers. They haven’t got basic human decency… This is a disgusting place. They also have cockroaches in there [sic] changing rooms”. A final customer review that is as highly critical of Bombay Fashion Exclusive reads as follows: “Do not buy from this shop!!! Ordered a dress from this shop and the dress that arrived was the wrong colour. Owner was extremely rude and refused to apologize. We stated that we would never be buying from him again and he responded by saying ‘that’s fine, I have a big clientele’. The female assistant in the shop was also rude and unhelpful. The owner is a scammer…”
Daminis London, despite being a deeply rooted “commercial community mamma’s shop” – as Parminder Bhachu has described it [op. cit.] – has itself received its fair share of criticisms over the question of customer service. To begin with, one reviewer expresses the general view that shops along High Street offer a much better service than that of Daminis – he/she puts it very succinctly: “Stay away! Much better shops on the High Street”. A second reviewer, contrasting the store to other ones on Green Street, writes: “Extremely rude staff! I was going to purchase my wedding outfit from here but walked straight out because of the rude staff. I was about to spend £400 on a nice piece but decided not to. I would definitely recommend searching elsewhere along Green Street as you can find some lovely shops with nice staff who are willing to help”. A third reviewer, confirming that Daminis has been reduced to a “Shell of its former self” [op. cit.], writes as follows, here focusing on service in particular: “The worst customer service I’ve come across in a long time! The miserable old cow [Mrs. Damini herself?] behind the till was amazingly useless and rude!... This was once a go to shop for Asian dresses and the high level of service they provided. But these days it’s just an old name cringing [sic] on to the name and reputation from a decade ago. This shop is now officially the worst place on the strip!” A fourth reviewer notes: “Rude, non-communicative staff who look incredible [sic] bored, and look as if they really don’t want to be there”. A fifth simply observes: “Pathetic customer service”. Last, though certainly not least, there is even a complaint about a certain form of “sexual harassment” that is supposedly happening to young female customers in the store – a customer writes as follows: “Oh, and then there’s the pervy [meaning pervert] old bald guy who takes every opportunity to tell you he’s the owner and offering to measure any young girl personally. Yuk!” The latter observation is of course outrageous – it is possible that the writer is simply being vindictive for personal reasons.
Customer service – the ethnic dimension
“Cultural clusters” are also “commercial cultural clusters” – clothes shops within such “clusters” are owned and/or managed by members of ethnic minorities. The shops mainly serve locals belonging to these ethnic minority groups. It is therefore natural that all or most shop assistants also belong to such ethnic minorities, and this in some way can often colour the form that customer service takes.
Zarkan of London employs ethnic staff – one such member of staff is briefly presented to us by a local who did her shopping at the store. She writes: “… I got married 4 months ago… I walked by this store and tried a few dresses. Then I fell in love with one dress, but I needed a couple of alterations. We decided to buy the dress and the lady who helped us… [was a] Pakistani lady from Lahore with a scarf…”
At least one shop assistant at RDC London, it is said, cannot speak English properly or not at all [which is a bit surprising, as this store is said to be particularly of the upmarket category]. One regular customer notes: “… the women [sic] assistant couldn’t speak English and was continually rude from the start!... Horrible service from a brand like RDC. I’m truly upset as I spend a lot of money in that shop for various occasions over the years!” The RDC shop assistant, obviously a member of an ethnic minority, was communicating in her mother tongue, as so often happens in the locality of East Ham [cf. Jonnie Robinson, “British accents and dialects”, https://www.bl.uk, 24.04.2019 – this text briefly explains the widespread use of Asian and Caribbean mother tongues in the UK]. We cannot say why the customer in question could not understand the assistant’s mother tongue or why she in any case preferred to communicate in the English language.
We have noted above how Shiffonz has been criticized for its unprofessional customer service – this, however, is often put down to the fact that members of staff belong to ethnic minorities [paradoxically, of course, such criticism comes from members of ethnic minorities themselves]. One customer puts it as follows: “Disgusting customer service. These Asian female workers think they know it all. So big headed”. A second customer is much more explicit with respect to the ethnic origins of a particular Shiffonz assistant, assuming that whatever “rudeness” or “unprofessionalism” is explainable in term of such origins – we read: “… she needs to acknowledge the fact that she’s not in her country were [sic] she may have learnt all these bad attributes and picked up bad customer service skills from. We live in the United Kingdom, wake up this is not were [sic] you have come from. Customer service is vital…” [my emph.]. Finally, yet another Shiffonz customer complains as follows: “Their dress fitting is as terrible as their customer service… typical Asian ladies”.
The “globalization” of fashion trends; the question of “ethno-globalization”; and the dress codes of East Ham’s “cultural clusters”
We have thus far presented empirical data – as also the sentiments of concrete individuals – regarding ethnic attire in the area of East Ham. This constitutes a more or less substantial empirical framework within which we may attempt to explain the cultural practices of attire in ethnic “cultural clusters” of the type we find in East Ham and its environs. As mentioned in our introduction to this paper, our initial question shall have to be the following: is it at all true to suggest that the average concrete individual belonging to East Ham’s ethnic minority groups dresses according to stereotypes promoted by “globalized” brands of the fashion industry? This question generates yet a further problem: what exactly does one mean when one speaks of “globalization” in the fashion industry? Would it not be more accurate to speak here of “ethno-globalization”, whereby fashion designs express the distinct ethnic tastes of a specific geographical region such as the Indian subcontinent, the clothes industry of which has gone “global”? And is it not true to say that such “ethno-globalization” naturally appeals to people of that region who have finally “settled” in a foreign land such as the UK?
These are very general questions that can only be answered with a string of caveats [and which we do intend to explore in some detail below, despite the intrinsic difficulties]. But in any case these general questions can allow us to become more specific in the process of analyzing such a complex reality. For instance, to what extent does East Ham’s average concrete individual possess the capacity – be this economic or extra-economic – to indulge in the sporting of “ethno-globalized” fashions? And who, for that matter, constitutes the “average” person in East Ham? No one need be a so-called trained “sociologist” to detect the obvious class-based cleavages that characterize the whole of the Borough of Newham, something which may itself determine [or may not] the clothes one wears on a daily basis.
To begin with, one cannot but acknowledge that East Ham’s clothes market does include a large array of “luxury designer outfits” targeting its locals [though also many “outsiders” visiting the area in search of ethnic attire]. This would suggest that locals – and especially women – are what we may call “fashion conscious”. Such consciousness, of course, may stand in some uneasy contradistinction to the specific “ethnic” or “ethno-religious” consciousness of people belonging to “cultural clusters”. Such contradistinction may be taken to be a mere fact of life amongst ethnic minorities – but that may be so only to the extent that certain compromises and adjustments have to be made [and are usually made] so as to accommodate differences between these apparently dissimilar types of mindsets embodied in a single individual.
“Luxury designer outfits” are sold – or may be merely promoted as such – by many of the outlets we have been referring to above. We shall here briefly present some sample stores that are said to specialize in that type of upmarket fashion outfit.
We have already noted how quite a number of “Units” hosted by the East Shopping Centre are said to deal in “luxury designer” collections, such as – amongst other types of garments – Saree outfits. The “ethno-global” element is here distinctly prevalent.
The “ethno-global” element is also evident in attire sold by the Shopping Centre’s Zarkan of London which, as we have elsewhere seen, presents itself as an “upmarket boutique” selling “designer” clothes.
Reva’s Fashions, the store located along High Street North, announces on its Facebook Page that it deals in the “latest fashion”. Presumably, this implies that the store informs its stock according to the most up to date “ethno-global” fashion trends.
We have noted that customers frequenting Green Street’s Mahir store are especially “fashion conscious”, expecting to find therein updated “trendy” and “elegant” attire. They will often express a certain disappointment on discovering that stocks have yet to be renewed, again presumably in keeping with the latest in “ethno-global” trends.
The Rasam Gayatri Silks store, according to the Indian Business Directory, chooses to promote its attire for men, women and kids as “fashion clothing”. Its stock might not necessarily be representative of the latest “ethno-global” trends, but its promotional emphasis on “fashion” does seem to pander to the “fashion conscious” needs of at least a segment of East Ham’s “settler” residents. The same may be said of Ruby Fashions, which chooses to present itself as an “Indian Ladies Fashion Shop”. Likewise, and as we have seen above, Rani Fashions announces that it deals in all types of “fashion clothing” for women.
Finally, Daminis presents itself as a store that sells the latest fashion attire in “Indian designerwear”.
It may argued that this phenomenon of “luxury designer outfits” being sold along the streets of East Ham is a direct reflection of the “globalized” fashion industry. Since all such upmarket attire is designed in some way or other according to cultural standards set by countries such as India, it may be further argued that these outfits are more accurately a reflection of an “ethno-globalized” fashion industry. And it could thus be argued that it is within this context of “ethno-globalization” that many of East Ham’s clothes stores attempt to promote their merchandise as “trendy” and themselves as “boutiques”.
There is much truth in such a general understanding of the cultural practices revolving around ethnic attire in a locality such as East Ham. However, there is as much a distortion of the reality as there is a truth in it. We shall never be able to attain an accurate explanatory picture of the manner in which East Ham’s “cultural clusters” choose to dress unless we delineate a combinatory of factors determining such choice. Before we undertake such an investigation of factors, we may simply entertain a number of issues that could seriously qualify the idea that “ethno-globalization” is the all-powerful determinant of the way people dress in East Ham, or qualify the idea that each and every female East Hammer sports – or wishes to sport – a “luxury designer outfit”.
A perfect example of such “luxury designer outfit” is what has come to be called the “New Age Sari” – the crucial question, however, is this: who precisely is it that wears such garment, whether somewhere in India or in East Ham itself? An important study entitled The Cultures of Economic Migration: International Perspectives [Suman Gupta and Tope Omoniyi (eds.), Routledge, 2016, p. 201 et al] presents us with information that explains both the specifications of such “New Age Sari” and the particular social categories that are most likely to adopt it as their own style of dress. We read: “With the liberalization of the Indian market in the 1990’s, once again the ‘sari’ is emerging as an erotic wrap for some upper class, trendy women… The blouse is being discarded (in some cases), and the ‘sari’ itself is changing in size, altering its form and being tied in a variety of new ways (sometimes so as to show the navel). By 2002 this trend, at least in the upper echelons, had gained strength and Indian designers began to think of this new kind of ‘sari’ like fusion music. In contrast to the conventional draping style the New Age ‘sari’ can be made to look like a divided skirt, flowing trousers, or even an ankle-length dress. Thus, the ‘sari’ has once again become a functional, heady mix of sex appeal, feminine mystery, elegance, individuality and adaptability” [my emph.]. There are two basic points that one can surmise from this text: First, that the cultural root-source of such “New Age” ethnic attire is India itself – it was the Indian market that had been “liberalized” and it was specifically Indian designers that did the thinking as to the new form/s such attire would take. One should, therefore, more accurately speak of “ethno-globalization” [a term much more restricted in terms of the implied cultural catchment area] rather than of “globalization” [it being all-inclusive and running across all of the world’s pre-existing cultures]. To put it otherwise, it had been none other than the Indian clothing market – and the cultural products of its Indian designers – that had “migrated” to a series of geographical spots hosting ethnic “settlers” who would not cut the umbilical cord connecting them to their homeland. Second – and perhaps much more importantly for us at this stage – such “New Age” ethnic attire has been generally limited to segments of the “upper classes” or to people belonging to “the upper echelons” of a society.
Such an understanding of ethnic attire, however, also calls for a certain qualification. Above, we had suggested that it could be seen as oversimplistic [or at least one-sided] to present “globalization” – or better “ethno-globalization” – as the all-powerful determinant of the manner that people dress in a locality such as East Ham. But, then, it could also be quite oversimplistic to suggest that the forces of “ethno-globalization” have only had an impact on East Ham’s “upper classes” or “upper echelons”, leaving the rest of its residents completely unadulterated. While it may be true that the products of “ethno-globalization” are mainly adopted by the middle- or upper-middle classes, it is as true to say that the fashion designs of such “ethno-globalization” also percolate into the ranks of common working people [and even amongst those without a steady job, or those that operate within the area’s “informal sector”]. To put it simply, it may be argued that the designs of “ethno-globalization” do creep into the lives of all and sundry via cheap ready-made clothes that are imitative of the “New Age” attire. Such an observation shall itself have to remain tentative, and especially as regards its implications concerning the nature of East Ham’s various “cultural clusters” [pending our discussion of the possible combinatory of forces determining people’s choices regarding how they dress] – yet still, the question of ready-made ethnic attire constitutes an important dimension of UK’s ethnic clothing market.
We may here present a couple of representative examples of outlets that deal in ready-made clothes. Choudhary Fashion, located along High Street North, sells “Ready Made Clothes” for men, women and children – much of this being “casual wear” [cf. the Indian Business Directory]. While it is not explicitly specified that Choudhary Fashions imports its ready-made garments directly from India, this is definitely a common practice amongst many outlets selling ready-made clothes.
Quite a number of customers that have ordered outfits from Zarkan of London clearly state that their purchases are to be imported from India. It is also true, however, that as many customers choose to doubt that what they have ordered does in fact come from India, and that, despite what the owners of the store declare. One customer who had chosen to buy a particular dress at Zarkan was told that a facsimile of it, together with the necessary alterations, would be ordered from India [“the lady who helped us… told me she would order it from India”]. In contrast, yet another Zarkan customer complains as follows: “It [the outfit] never goes to India [for alterations] or wherever they say they get it made from!” Of course, to the extent that there is a certain truth in what the latter customer is saying, this raises a variety of questions regarding ready-made “imported” clothes [we shall be coming back to this and related issues in some detail below].
At face value, at least, the question of imported ready-made clothes – viz. attire expressive of “ethno-globalized” fashion trends – allows us to raise a couple of questions absolutely pertinent to the purposes of the paper. Firstly, if it is true that a large number of East Ham residents do buy ready-made clothes coming from India, then the impact of “ethno-globalization” may not be limited to the locality’s “upper classes” or “upper echelons”. But, then, we shall need to investigate who or what determines the exact specifications of a design in this dialectical chain linking three separate entities – i.e. the local customer vis-à-vis the local store, and the latter vis-à-vis the Indian design industry. It cannot be taken as an obvious given that, within this dialectical chain, it is the Indian design industry that is overdeterminant as regards the design of a garment worn by an East Hammer. If it is not the Indian industry that is overdeterminant, then the impact of “ethno-globalization” on East Ham’s popular masses shall have to be seriously qualified. Secondly, the suggestion that large numbers of East Hammers simply choose to wear India’s “globalized” ready-made clothes seems to imply that the “cultural milieu” of any “cultural cluster” in East Ham is a blind tabula rasa open to the whims of indiscrete market forces and the fashion trends these happen to forge. The idea that an “ethno-globalized” fashion trend can simply be imposed onto a community can only be fallacious: nothing that is simply imposed can possibly serve the vital cultural needs of a cohesive “cultural cluster” operating within a fairly hostile or alien cultural environment like that of the UK [the majority of the country’s population being White, secular-thinking citizens].
These are some of the issues to be thrashed out below. For some analysts, in contrast, the question of “globalized” fashion and its impact on UK’s ethnic minorities is dealt with in a typically superficial manner – their purpose is overtly political, aimed at promoting the agenda of “multiculturalism” and/or “assimilation”. For them, it is safer to present any Muslim woman residing somewhere in London as simply part of the modern, “cosmopolitan” reality of the 21st century. Consider the following sample taken from a “study” by Reina Lewis [Muslim Fashion: Contemporary Style Cultures, Duke University Press, 2015]: “In the shops of London’s Oxford Street… young Muslim women are part of an emergent cross-faith transnational youth subculture of modest fashion” [cf. Summary, https://www.muse.jhu.edu/book/69040]. We are further informed that this “study” “contextualizes modest wardrobe styling within Islamic and global consumer culture…” We do not intend to deal with abstract [and ideologically “interested”] generalizations such as “emergent”, “cross-faith”, “transnational” and suchlike. One may here simply dwell on just one term – that of “modest fashion” – and point to its possibly daunting implications not touched on by the likes of Reina Lewis. Above, in our presentation of the Abaya cloak, we had seen how the Jilbab ‘R’ Us store – located within the East Shopping Centre – had also presented its stock as “fashionable modest wear”. Such “modesty”, we had observed, has a clear religious function – it is meant to “protect” Muslim women from the opposite sex. It is difficult to see how this type of functionality is “modern” enough to be an organic part of 21st century youth culture or an expression of “global consumer culture”. In terms of modern or postmodern Western culture, “modest wear” is expressive of a religious obscurantism that belongs to a distant past. That, however, is not at all how Muslim “cultural clusters” in localities such as East Ham choose to think – and that has to be respected, thereby rendering the phenomenon an object for serious sociological analysis. It is precisely such analysis that follows below.
The combinatory of factors determining manner of dress in a locality such as East Ham
Our general theoretical framework has already been briefly presented in our introduction to this paper – questions related to such framework have been raised whenever the need arose. Before undertaking a discrete examination of each of the factors determining manner of dress, we shall here attempt to expound our overall view in more general terms – of course, unless such general terms are shown to apply to real, concrete people, we too risk falling into the theoreticist tap usually representative of present-day academic chairs. The basic points of this theoretical framework are the following:
- The general phenomenon of a “globalized fashion industry” cannot be denied as a reality of the postmodern world.
- The specific phenomenon of ethnic-based, local “cultural clusters” in the UK can also not be denied as a reality.
- It is the ways in which these two realities – the general and the specific – relate to one another that needs to be investigated.
- The general phenomenon of a “globalized fashion industry” must be further subdivided into two distinct, though not unrelated, realities. On the one hand, one may speak of a true “globalization” in fashion whereby there is a certain cultural fusion between, say, the styles of the Western world and those of the East, or even of past residual styles and those of the so-called postmodern present. On the other hand, one may speak of a “globalization” stunted by ethnic subcultures that have spread across the world, thereby yielding what we have termed “ethno-globalization” [Bollywood here being a perfect example]. At least at a theoretical level, both of these subdivisions must be assumed to be of equal weight and value. For purely practical purposes, we may henceforth speak of a “true globalization” [T.G.] and of a “stunted globalization” [S.G.]. By the way, the former may never come to be “true” at all, in the sense of ever becoming a truly all-inclusive steamrolling force across the globe – on the other hand, it may be said to be “true” if contrasted to the latter, which is a “global” trend stunted by ethnic forces also traversing the globe.
- Both T.G. and S.G. have their specific impact on ethnic-based, local “cultural clusters” in the UK [such as those in East Ham], as also on socio-cultural formations operating outside the confines of a “cultural cluster” [such as in the Square Mile and its “City-type” mindset]. The discrete impact of either T.G. or of S.G. [or of some combination of these] can be “strong”, “weak” or somewhere in-between, depending on which cultural formation or sub-formation we happen to be referring to within the UK. By “strong” or “weak” we mean to describe the extent to which a local cultural formation passively or actively receives either T.G. or S.G., allowing these – or maybe even disallowing them – to blend with their pre-existing cultural milieu. For instance, in the case of the “City-type” – operating in an environment of cultural “integration” or that of “multiculturalism” – the wearing of a Hijab could mainly be seen as an expression of “fashionable” wear in the context of a “cosmopolitan” convergence of peoples [a “strong blending” with either T.G. or S.G.]. In contrast, the wearing of a Hijab in London’s inner city localities – operating in an environment of a relative cultural “segregation” – could mainly be seen as an expression of ethno-religious practices meant to assert one’s separate identity vis-à-vis the rest [a “weak blending” with either T.G. or S.G.].
- The “weakness” or “strength” in the blending process is determined by very specific [albeit entangled] factors, each of which can clearly be delineated, as they will be here. But the problem is not really that simple at all – we shall have to emphasize that it is precisely the entangled combination of all of these discrete factors that determines the “weakness” or “strength” of the impact of T.G. and/or S.G., and with specific reference to East Ham’s “cultural clusters”. Our presentation of the array of determining factors shall therefore have to remain incomplete, at least as regards their interrelationship – an analysis of the precise forms that such a combinatory takes within “cultural clusters” and at a particular point in time remains well beyond our means [presupposing as it does long-term research based on direct field work in such localities].
- FACTOR I: Class-based/ethnic-based poverty in the UK – viz. class-based economic capacities or the absence of such capacities within specific ethnic groups, and the implications of this with respect to how one dresses.
- FACTOR II: “Cultural cluster” self-survivalism and the need for “safety” and/or “protection” in the face of other UK “cultural clusters”; as also in the face of the uneven and destructive impact of the different forms of “globalization” [T.G. or S.G.] – the need for cultural authenticity, cohesion and self-assertive resilience. The implications of this with respect to manner of dress.
- FACTOR III: The natural “pull” of the aesthetics of the pre-existing local cultural milieu – the aesthetic “selectivity” of local cultures vis-à-vis the different manifestations of “globalization” [T.G. and S.G.], and the balance of mutual “adjustments” that take place between these two interfaces. The question of “resistance” to “New Age” Indian fashion, and the implications of this as to how one dresses – and this, well outside the need for “safety” and “protection”, it being a question of mere aesthetic choice and/or of the dominance of localized “ethnic circuits”.
- FACTOR IV: Local customer initiatives with respect to style or manner of dress – group and/or individual preferences. The functionality of “self-designing” and of local tailoring practices versus “global” brand designs and their stereotypes.
- FACTOR V: The local manufacturing of ethnic clothes – the traditional and mainly Asian-owned East End clothing industry – versus the “globalization” of the fashion industry [T.G. or S.G.]. The continuing economic resilience of such local ethnic minority entrepreneurship in the UK clothing sector, and the implications of this as to manner of dress within localities such as East Ham.
- FACTOR VI: The relationship between manner of dress and religious practices in the “cultural clusters” of localities such as East Ham.
These are the six basic factors which, in a myriad of internal combinations, can determine people’s manner of dress. Of course, both the factors per se and their combinations can never be static. Whatever is suggested below is simply based on a theoretical “freezing” of the socio-cultural “moment”. And yet, one can fairly safely assert that, while both T.G. and S.G. may have a fairly ubiquitous impact on the members of a “cultural cluster”, such impact is delimited and constrained by all of the six factors delineated above – for it is these very factors that define important dimensions in the life of whichever “cultural cluster”.
Factor I: the question of poverty
An East Hammer does not simply choose the clothes he/she purchases depending on his or her consumer capacity. Such capacity does, however, bear upon the choices one makes. This is almost inevitable, especially in cases where a family lives in a relative poverty. It is said that “1 in 5 Newham households lives in poverty” [cf. Financial Times, 18.06.2020].
It seems practically impossible to delimit the impact of a “globalized” fashion industry [whether in the form of T.G. or S.G.] on East Ham households without considering the reality of a class-based poverty in the borough [as in other UK geographical regions]. For our purposes, the reality of a relative poverty becomes all the more significant if we further consider that such poverty is also ethnic-based. The tight relationship between poverty and ethnic minority groups has been examined in much detail by Lucinda Platt, in her work, Poverty and Ethnicity in the UK, University of Essex, 2007.
As would any academic, Platt dwells much on the question of defining poverty. Perhaps unaware that her “analyses” of poverty verge on being absolutely platitudinous, she tells us that her study is to adopt an “income measure of poverty” [p. ix]. She also tells us that the latter relates to “deprivation” – as she writes: “deprivation was conceived as stemming from lack of income” [ibid.]. While we do know that there are different ways of measuring poverty, Platt’s pronouncements are really quite commonplace. Need we say, for instance, that “deprivation” relates to a non-access to goods such as clothes, and especially so when it comes to “fashionable” clothes of the type promoted by “global” fashion brands? As to different measures of poverty and “deprivation”, Platt presents us with examples “such as lack of material goods and duration of poverty, as well as income insecurity”. “Deprivation” itself, we are informed, “is a wide-ranging term… It can cover a lack of material possessions, such as warm clothing…” [ibid.]. The reference to “warm clothing” is perhaps of some interest for our purposes – someone deprived of such clothing would obviously not bother to keep up with the latest in “global” fashion trends.
And yet, and despite the various theoretical verbosities, Platt’s work is important – her usage of different measures of poverty and “deprivation” has enabled her to come up with significant findings on the question of ethnic-based poverty. Importantly, she notes that what her research work has found were “differences in poverty by ethnic group” [ibid.].
In fact, Platt’s work goes on to identify “stark differences in rates of poverty” based on the particular ethnic group one belongs to in the UK [ibid. my emph.]. Such “stark differences” are related directly to “ethnicity”, to “migrant background” and even to “religious affiliation” [ibid.]. Her findings, therefore, are directly applicable to our definition of ethnic-based “cultural clusters” of the type concentrated in and around East Ham.
Platt summarizes her findings as follows: “… all identified minority ethnic groups [in the UK] had higher rates of poverty than the average for the population. Rates of poverty were highest for Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Black Africans, reaching nearly two thirds for Bangladeshis. Rates of poverty were also higher for those living in Indian, Chinese and other minority ethnic group households” [ibid., my emph.].
Specifically comparing the case of Pakistanis with that of Bangladeshis, she writes: “Pakistanis were found to be nearly as poor as Bangladeshis on many counts, but there appeared to be differences in degree” [p. x].
With respect to the question of savings, Platt finds that “Many minority ethnic groups had no savings, although the Indian group was an exception” [ibid., my emph.].
However, and as is to be expected, the phenomenon of poverty is not merely ethnic-based – given the internal class stratification within any “cultural cluster”, there are variations of poverty or lack of poverty within ethnic groups themselves, pointing to an obvious class-based poverty. Platt summarizes this reality as follows: “In addition to extensive variation in experience [of poverty] between [ethnic] groups, there is also substantial variation within [these] groups… Recognition of within-group diversity [i.e. diversity as regards the experience of poverty] challenges forms of explanation based around ethnicity or religious affiliation… Nevertheless, recognition of diversity should not detract from the high risks of poverty associated with particular ethnic identities or categories” [ibid.].
The variation in the experience of poverty within an ethnic group – symptomatic of the social stratification within “cultural clusters” – may be corroborated by an excellent quote made available to us by Bhachu, in her study Dangerous Designs [op. cit.]. Mrs. Damini of Daminis London is quoted as saying the following: “… the first generation did not spend so much money on clothes. They used to make a few suits and wear them all their life. I am talking about India in my time… India’s young generation and also those here in England, they want to go to one party and they want a new suit. They do not want to wear that again a second time. So naturally there would be demand. It’s the same here. Like, for example, I had a customer in the shop yesterday. They bought four suits for their small kids for £400 each. I told them to get them made a little big so they can wear them for a while. She replied immediately that they will not wear it a second time. In the past, they used to make one suit do the rounds for four weddings!” [p. 108].
Bhachu may therefore go ahead and write of “flooded markets” [based on Mrs. Damini’s reference to the continual “demand” for outfits] and the “rapid obsolescence of suits” [ibid]. Obviously, however, that is only a part of the reality, generally expressive of particular social strata that can afford such type of consumerism, or that can be receptive to “globalized” fashion trends. This cannot apply to the vast majority of people residing in East Ham, or in the East End generally. A study of this region undertaken by Panikos Panayi accurately refers to it as a “Migrant City” and confirms that it is “Associated with the poorest of migrants”, and which has therefore “attracted the gaze of sociologists” [cf. Migrant City: A New History of London, Yale University Press, 2020, pagination unavailable online, my emph.]. In examining the case of Newham generally [cf. Paper 3], we had noted that this is “one of the most deprived local authority areas in the country”, as recorded in the 2017 “Newham Character Study”. We had further examined the high rate of unemployment in the borough, as also the phenomenon of “cultural worklessness”. Such socio-economic conditions cannot be ignored in any discussion attempting to understand the manner in which people dress, and the extent to which they can follow the trends of either T.G. or S.G.
It is such relative socio-economic “deprivation” that allows us to explain the type of comments recorded by customers of East Ham clothes shops on the question of prices [as presented above]. We may here reiterate comments on clothes prices such as the following: “overpriced”; “avoid”; “very expensive products”; “unreasonable prices”; “extortionate”; “unbelievably high prices for outfits”, and so on. In itself, such type of commentary may not necessarily point to the poverty of East Ham’s local consumers – it may, however, indicate the extent to which many consumers belonging to ethnic minorities do not possess the economic capacity to indulge in the “luxury” products of “global” fashion brands.
Factor II: the question of self-survivalism
The need for a “safe” or a “protective” social environment in the face of blind “globalizing” forces, as also in the face of alien “cultural clusters”, can yield self-survivalist social practices informed by specific cultural practices. Naturally, such cultural practices would also include specific dress codes.
The impact of “globalization” on UK’s “cultural clusters”, and the need for cultural cohesion in response to such impact, has been examined with some rigour by Paul Kennedy, in his study entitled Local Lives and Global Transformations: Towards World Society, Macmillan International Higher Education, 2009. Based on his research work, Kennedy makes the following revealing observations with respect to ethnic-based “cultural clusters” in the localities of the UK:
- “Here”, he writes, “for many people, globalization, Western life and modernization are perceived as undermining the viability of traditional cultures and sacred beliefs…” [p. 185, my emph.]. Given such possible erosion of traditions and beliefs, the cultural milieu of a locality – as crystallized in a “cultural cluster” – needs to preserve its cohesion and maintain its own “safety”.
- Such need for “safety” is evident, for example, amongst Asian women living in their “cultural clusters”. Kennedy observes: “For Asian women… the home area of family and ethnic life offered safety” [p. 181]. That, however, is not at all a feeling limited to a particular age group or, as we shall further see below, to females.
- The “safety” of a “cultural cluster” would only be secured if that cluster sustained and reproduced itself as a relatively tight social formation. Its sustainment and reproduction would mean that members of the “cultural cluster” would have to abide by specific codes of the home area, thereby securing its cohesion. These codes would, of course, also entail manner of dress. Kennedy puts this as follows – he writes that there would be “the risk of gossip” in the community “if [especially young female’s] actions contravened expected codes of Asian female demeanour or were regarded as threatening family honour, for example in respect to dress” [ibid., my emph.]. This “risk of gossip” would thus be at least one manner in which a certain “communal pressure” would be exercised on members of the “cultural cluster” so as to maintain cohesion and bolster “safety”.
- Kennedy further observes that even in cases were young Asian females would at times choose to “escape” such “communal pressure”, they would do so in ways that would not destabilize the internal cohesion and order of their “cultural cluster”. For those young women who wished to “escape” whatever form of “communal pressure”, he writes, they would opt to visit different geographical locations so as to “experiment”. The implication is that such young women would never violate the codes of their own home area as such – the latter would maintain its cohesion of codes and norms. Further, such women would not try “to break with communal sexual codes or to rebel against their ethnic background”. And finally, even when these women visited different geographical locations, they would “enjoy the company of other young women both from their own and other Asian ethnic groups” [ibid.]. They would therefore primarily socialize with members of ethnic groups sharing similar origins, customs and traditions – and thus they would again not destabilize norms or threaten the family honour expressive of their own “cultural cluster”.
- Such type of self-protective and self-survivalist behaviour is not limited to young Asian females – survivalist behaviour based on a consciousness of ethnic identity and its norms is also evident amongst young males, and which would include males belonging to different “cultural clusters” of various ethnic minority groups. Kennedy writes: “Like the Asians, [young Afro-Caribbean men]… evinced a clear sense of ethnic identity, as being ‘black’. For example, many felt a strong allegiance towards the particular Caribbean island from which their parents had originally come. Moreover, in pursuing their weekend or evening leisure activities most tried to remain within their own social and spatial nexus…” [ibid.]. Again, it would be the need for “safety” that would prompt such young males to adhere to the cohesion of their ethnic identity, both socially and spatially.
- Kennedy, therefore, clearly identifies “the tendency for individuals to seek the safety of their [socio-spatial nexus]” – viz. the safety of “their own ethnic/national social milieu whether because of shared communication and life worlds or their mutual fear of encountering prejudice” [ibid., my emph.]. Of course, this “fear of encountering prejudice” points to the existence of possibly alien “cultural clusters” in adjacent neighbourhoods. Such “fear”, however, is also a product of circumstances going well beyond the local environment – members of “cultural clusters” can be as much threatened by the manner in which “globalization” [whether T.G. or S.G.] can have a direct or indirect impact on their lives.
- Kennedy writes: “At the same time, most find it difficult to understand the changes [of “globalization”] engulfing them”. Such changes “threaten their daily lives and identities” [p. 185, my emph.].
- It is what Kennedy describes as “the uneven and often destructive impact of globalization” that threatens the members of UK’s “cultural clusters”. And it is precisely because of such threat that one sees “the sheer power of the local in all of its forms”. Such “local”, Kennedy explains, “absorbs and diverts [them], filling [their] micro-worlds with loyalties, responsibilities and meanings which satisfy most of [their] needs” [ibid., my emph.].
- It is therefore the impact of “globalization” itself that, to a large extent, explains “the resilience of the local influences”. “Here”, continues Kennedy, “the pull of the local may be even more overwhelming and difficult to resist just because of the protection and security it is perceived as providing” [ibid., my emph]. This “resilience” and “pull” of the “local”, of course, may also be explained by factors other than those related to the impact of “globalization” per se [to be presented in discussing Factor III].
- The overall conclusions that Kennedy draws from his research work help us understand why large swathes of the “cultural clusters” concentrated in localities such as East Ham would adopt a negative stance to the phenomenon of “globalization”, be it T.G. or S.G. It goes without saying that such negative stance would also apply to the manner in which East Ham’s ethnic minorities would choose to dress. Much of the types of attire we have been discussing above – cf. Types of ethnic attire worn in the region of East Ham – must be seen as representative of people’s negative reactions to “globalization” and its fashion brands. This is how Kennedy presents his overall conclusions – he writes: “the responses [of ethnic minority communities to “globalization”]… involve a retreat into primordial cultural bunkers… and/or engaging in desperate attempts to return to their roots through re-indigenization, the assertion of subregional identities or re-ethnicization” [ibid., my emph.].
Factor III: the natural “pull” of local aesthetics
The manner in which people dress may also be explained in terms of the natural “pull” factor exercised by the local cultural milieu itself and the aesthetic values that define it. This factor must be considered as totally independent of whatever need for “safety” and “protection” from external forces [despite its independence, however, it does articulate closely with Factor II, amongst others].
The natural “pull” of local aesthetics is expressive of the tendency, on the part of local cultures, to select what people wear. “Selectivity” is the key word in this case – it points to active subjects that do not passively receive what is presented to them as “global brands” by the mass media [especially of the R.G. type].
Dress historians have certainly noted this phenomenon of local cultural “selectivity”. We may here consider Margaret Maynard’s work, Dress and Globalization – Studies in Design and Material Culture, Manchester University Press, 2004. A “synopsis” of this book informs us that its purpose is to dispel “the myth of universal ‘world’ attire”. Further, “By discussing the nature of globalization, this book shows that… all cultures are selective in their choice of what to wear” [cf., inter alia, https://www.abebooks.com, my emph.].
Above, we had referred to the “New Age Sari”, and how such attire may be worn by members of the Indian “upper class” [cf. the study edited by Gupta and Omoniyi, The Cultures of Economic Migration, op. cit.]. It has been argued, however, that even in the case of such “New Age” Indian dress, one may generally observe a “resistance” to the type of garments expressive of R.G., this being prompted by the wish for “authentic” Indian dress. Both the “resistance” and the need for “authenticity” may be understood in terms of the “selectivity” exercised by local “cultural clusters”, with their specific aesthetic values at times operating as a “blocking” factor to at least R.G. styles.
With respect to people belonging to the Indian ethnic group, the Gupta and Omoniyi study notes: “… [T]here is a growing resistance to Western influences and a renewed search for an ‘authentic’ Indian dress, which is both non-Western and fashionable, is on…” [p. 201 et al, my emph.].
Thus, the study continues, “… Indian women have not abandoned native styles on a mass scale”. Rather, “they have successfully adapted Indian outfits such as salwar-kameez” to their own “contemporary” whims and/or needs [ibid., my emph].
According to certain views, Indian women residing outside India have come to see the Bollywood trend itself as expressive of the “native style”, and thus choose to wear that kind of style so as to assert their non-Western “authenticity” as regards clothing. The Gupta and Omoniyi study continues as follows: “At the beginning of the twenty-first century the definition of ‘native’ Indian women’s dress has changed fundamentally. A recent report (Malwani, 2001) suggests that most of the Non-Resident Indians (NRI’s) use Bollywood (the Bombay film industry) style and fashions for their choice of clothes, believing them to be authentically Indian…” [ibid.].
This view wishes to argue that “cultural clusters” located outside India opt for S.G. styles – viz. they are prone to adopt fashions promoted directly by “ethno-globalization”. While there is much truth in such a position [as has already been noted above], it nonetheless fails to consider the “selective” aesthetics of local cultures in the UK, an aesthetics which may not always be a mirror image of their homeland’s specifically upmarket fashions [even Indian society itself, by the way, does not en masse sport Bollywood fashion styles].
This “pull” of local aesthetics in clothing has been observed by Parminder Bhachu herself, in the text entitled “It’s hip to be Asian” [cf. above]. Bhachu supports that if one is to understand the manner in which “British Asian” women dress, one has no choice but to consider “the diasporean aesthetics that govern their fashion styles” [p. 40, my emph.]. It is therefore those living outside India, rooted in the “cultural clusters” of their own neighbourhoods in London’s inner city areas, which determine their own aesthetics in clothing styles. And their lives may be such as to make them ignore the latest fashion stereotypes of S.G. – more accurately, one should say that locals might go ahead and absorb such stereotypes, but would do so in a manner adjusted to their own aesthetics.
Bhachu is consistent in what she supports, basing her findings on her field work in the region of East Ham. In her book, Dangerous Designs [op. cit.], she explicitly states the following as regards the work of fashion designers based in the UK: “The cultural aesthetics and commercial sensibilities of the diasporic designers… are products of their context” [p. 95, my emph.]. Such designers have no choice but adjust their work to the local milieu – and by so adjusting, their work emanates primarily from that context and mirrors it. Bhachu thereby contextualizes both aesthetic and commercial “sensibilities” in terms of the needs of UK’s own “cultural clusters”.
While, as we shall further see below, her research material does not ignore the realities of “ethno-globalization” [such realities are – more or less inadvertently – reevaluated and placed in a more realistic perspective], Bhachu’s work nonetheless remains firmly focused on the “pull” of the local reality, both as an aesthetic choice and as an economic expediency. She writes: “As locals, situated within a British milieu, they [Asian women in the UK diaspora economies] represent an authentic diasporic voice with a firmly grounded aesthetic which is cognizant of the local market” [ibid., my emph.].
Very importantly, it is precisely this cognizance of the local market that enables UK’s ethnic-based local clothing enterprises to outperform the products of S.G. Bhachu continues: “… locals… whose design enterprises are based in locations where they have lived all their lives, have the commercial advantage [over “global” commercial/cultural actors]…” [ibid., my emph.]. The local market in ethnic clothing, as also local clothes manufacturing, shall be further examined below [taken as Factor V].
Bhachu is thus able to draw major conclusions regarding the natural “pull” of local aesthetics in ethnic attire within the “cultural clusters” of the East Ham region – the following quote is perhaps the most representative of her research work: “They [the local enterprises]… draw their signifiers from their own settings, their lived locations, in which they have their markets. Unlike the elite design entrepreneurs, they do not signify what is already significant in their nations to translate for new markets of which they are neither products nor residents. They live in their own national locations with a different set of cultural and racial values” [ibid., my emph.]. Of course, one cannot avoid noticing in this passage the blight of Bourdieuan linguistic pretentiousness – Bhachu’s work does not need such pompous verbiage. One may simply note the basic point in her findings – viz. that the cultural aesthetics of attire rooted in a locality can prevail over the rootless brand-styles of either R.G. or S.G. Alternatively, one may state that it is the local, “lived location” of a cluster of people that determines its “cultural values” and its “racial values” – and it is such circumstances that help determine one’s manner of dress.
The cognizance of one’s local context – as also the rootedness that it presupposes – is evident in the life and work of the founder of Daminis London, Mrs. Damini. Bhachu, who chooses to dub Mrs. Damini “a commercial matriarch”, emphasizes such rootedness by also referring to her as “a networking community mama”. The personal, cultural and commercial “narrative” of this woman is presented as follows: “Mrs. Damini was widowed at twenty-five, soon after migrating to London, and was left with two small children to bring up in a new land. Her success in setting up an enterprise on her own… is… a compelling cultural and commercial narrative… She is very popular amongst her huge network of customers. She is a skilled saleswoman and adept at dealing with people from many walks of life. She is located in a community of which she has been a part for over thirty years. She knows her markets intimately. Her customers invite her to their weddings and engagements, to their children’s functions, to endless family occasions within her extensive networks. One of her relatives visiting from India had to inquire of her, after seeing great numbers of people who greeted her fondly, if there was anyone in the world she did not know! She explained that this is because of the shop and ‘saray andhay jandhay’ (people come and go)… She performs the functions of an honorary kinswoman in a personalized, community-mediated, commercial context. Many people call her by a kinship term like ‘aunt’ or the Punjabi equivalent ‘masiji’, or even ‘penji’, the term for sister…” [p. 103, my emph.].
The sample case of Mrs. Damini clearly shows the vital position such persons occupy within a “cultural cluster” when it comes to the question of ethnic attire. They do not unilaterally determine the clothes locals wear – rather, their interaction with members of the community allows them to know their aesthetic needs. They thereby act as intermediaries between clothes manufacturers and consumers, enabling the former to adjust to the needs of the latter. The important implication is that it is the local cultural milieu which, in the last instance and to a large extent, determines the styles of attire sold and worn.
Bhachu notes the following as regards Mrs. Damini’s central role in her “cultural cluster”: “Her pivotal position in the community is obvious from the interactions in the shop. For example, when I was in the shop, a Punjabi Muslim couple came in and asked her why she had not attended their daughter’s wedding the previous weekend – they would have so much liked her to have done so. This was one of the endless invitations which she could not have possibly accepted or, having accepted, actually attended” [p. 104, my emph.].
It is such “pivotal position” of a clothes shop owner which would allow him/her to operate as a go-between in the dialectical chain linking the three separate entities involving ethnic attire – viz. the locals forming a “cultural cluster”, the local store owner, and the design industry [be it “global” or local]. Again, the manner in which Mrs. Damini has functioned within such dialectical chain can help us understand the basic determinants of what is sold and worn in a locality such as East Ham. Bhachu’s Dangerous Designs provides us with invaluable information on this, tracing developments in the history of the Daminis store and its changing relationship with Indian clothes manufacturers and designers. We shall see that, although the store would sell imported, ready-made clothes from India, such attire would ultimately come to adjust to and thereby express the “authentic” needs of East Ham’s local cultural milieu. Mrs. Damini’s role in ensuring such “authenticity” would certainly be “pivotal”. Bhachu’s basic findings may be presented as follows, first as regards general developments in the history of Daminis London:
- The late-1960’s, and the problematic local commercial infrastructure: “The suit fabric shops in the initial stages of the [Daminis] business in the late 1960s had real difficulty in finding stock from wholesalers because the commercial infrastructure of wholesaling was not yet established. There were a couple of wholesalers in 1969 which were, Mrs. Damini says, ‘tootay pajay’, literally, broken-down places with limited stock. As well as fabric on the roll, she stocked saris, sari blouses and petticoats and some dresses. She sold Japanese nylon saris because this is what people wore and she sold a lot of them. She sold Japanese polyesters that were used to make suits then…” [pp. 104-105].
- The 1980’s, and the development of the economy of ready-made clothes: “By the 1980s, however, the cloth and sari market was no longer as profitable and Deepak [Mrs. Damini’s son], in particular, felt that their returns were too small for their expenditure on rents, rates and shop assistants’ salaries. So, with the development of an economy of ready-made clothes, in their new shops Mrs. Damini and her son have moved away from fabrics to the more profitable, mass-produced suit sectors. She says, ‘We had Benarsi [or Banarasi] silk saris, French chiffon saris… We had a very good business for twelve years; then, the lease for that shop finished’…” [p. 105].
- The 2000’s, and the exclusive focus on ready-made clothes: “The new store in Green Street now focuses almost exclusively on ready-made clothes. Wedding outfits and menswear are on the first floor, ready-made women’s suits are on the ground floor, together with children’s clothes. Cloth and fabrics are relegated to the top floor” [ibid.].
- Ready-made clothes, and the establishment of connections with wholesalers in India: “Although Mrs. Damini came from India as a young married woman and had her extended family living in India, she did not have commercial connections with wholesaling cloth merchants or clothing manufacturers. Like the majority of other London-based enterprises…, she had to struggle to establish connections with wholesalers in India who could export what she needed”. Bhachu writes of the “fast global connections” [ibid.] that were being established by the Daminis store so as to import ready-made suits from India – it would obviously be more accurate to speak here of “ethno-global” connections.
- The search for suppliers of ready-made clothes in India, and the gradual professionalization of India’s design economy: “… when Daminis wanted to ‘go into ready-mades’, again they had to seek out new suppliers [in India]. Initially, they were few and far between though now the design economy has been professionalized by designers trained in the Indian state-sponsored design schools” [pp. 105-106].
- Frequency of visits to India: “Mrs. Damini and her son Deepak visit India much more frequently now, every six weeks, which is ‘six to seven times a year…’, she [Mrs. Damini] says” [p. 106].
- Daily contact with India – Bhachu quotes Mrs. Damini as follows: “In the past we used to have to deal with one courier company to send our things to England. Now there is so much competition. We used to have to spend £20-30 on one suit. Now it’s cheaper and very efficient and it’s so easy (it costs around £8 per suit). We used to think twice about calling India, now we call India fifteen to twenty times a day and the calls go through very quickly… We fax India every day and we get suits every day for odd-sized people or special requests…” [pp. 107-108].
Much more importantly for our purposes, we may now present the following material available in Bhachu’s research work regarding the relationship between the Daminis enterprise and the Indian clothes manufacturers and designers, and which would highlight the dialectical relationship between local consumers, local clothes stores and Indian enterprises in the context of S.G.:
- Links with specific Indian suppliers: “She [Mrs. Damini] says she does all the buying in Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta [though not only]. She developed the links with her suppliers in these places gradually. Some of them introduced themselves [to her]” [p. 106].
- Indian suppliers themselves initiate links with the Daminis enterprise – Bhachu quotes Mrs. Damini as follows: “… especially when you are buying big, people come to you. They come looking for you. You do not have to look for them. Suppliers come of their own accord when they hear you are in town [in India] to buy. But in the beginning you have to search them out yourself. A lot of suppliers have their own retail showrooms” [ibid.].
- The Daminis enterprise has the prerogative to choose the products from their Indian suppliers – Mrs. Damini is quoted as follows: “We had to find exporters… Luckily they were very good people, now the father has died, a Gujarati people. They still send us everything. We just go and choose whatever we want…” [ibid., my emph.].
- The Daminis enterprise determines the specifications and adaptations of ready-made clothes manufactured in India. Bhachu informs us that she had asked Mrs. Damini “if she watches fashion trends” – the latter’s response went as follows, and which tells us much about the limits of “ethno-globalization” in fashion designs: “They [the suppliers in India] do not suggest [fashion trends] but we let them know before we go to India that we are coming. At least ten days in advance, we inform the designers that we are coming. So they get the maximum number of designs together before we get there. If we like these designs we order. Otherwise, we suggest the lengths, colours, width, embroidery… We give them many suggestions. If we buy ready-made stuff they have made we cannot sell that here. We have to get things made to our specifications and many times they get things wrong. They already have designs and we suggest adaptations, changes, that would sell here… We say we want something different…” [p. 107, my emph.]. We consider this particular quote of crucial significance – it certainly debunks the idea that “globalization” [in whatever form] constitutes an all-powerful force determining “universal ‘world’ attire” [to use Maynard’s expression, op. cit.]. In fact, the quotes that follow further confirm such debunking.
- The Daminis enterprise has its own designers working in India – Mrs. Damini is quoted as follows: “We can get the pieces in the shop made to size for anyone. We get three to four pieces that arrive from India every day. We have our own people and designers working there. We know the number and the colour and can get it made very easily. We just fax them. We have an office in Bombay and she can get things done. We have people in Bangalore, Calcutta, Delhi. We buy different things from many places. We have our own label, Daminis. There are many designers who make for us but the label is our own” [pp. 107-108, my emph.].
- Garments from India may be further altered by a network of seamstresses based in the UK: the adaptation of garments to suit the needs of local customers begins in India but is finalized within the UK itself. According to Bhachu: “… The garments that arrive from India can have small alterations and fitting changes made to them in London by a network of seamstresses Mrs. Damini knows… [Thus,] clothes can be individually sized and made to customer specifications…” [p. 107, my emph.].
- The Daminis enterprise provides design information to Indian manufacturers. At a more general level, Bhachu makes the following observations: “Daminis are not innovators but mass marketers within ethnic circuits… [On the other hand,]… Some of their suits are specially designed in large numbers for their four stores. Mrs. Damini provides much valuable design information and market inputs to their Indian manufacturers about what is required for the British market” [p. 111, my emph.].
- Generally speaking, the case of the Daminis enterprise illustrates: [i] how local ethnic clothes stores articulate with “ethno-globalization”; and [ii] how these “localized” outlets, together with the local “cultural clusters” in which they are rooted, assert their own “cultural confidence”. Bhachu writes: “Daminis is a localized enterprise that remains local but works through the global markets… Mrs. Damini’s story is that of a struggle to set up a business in a new immigrant location… The development of the shops also reveals the developments in Indian markets and the ways in which British Asians are using their increased cultural confidence within their own areas of Britain to access Indian production and design sites to their advantage. The fact that these diaspora people have maintained and asserted their cultures in Britain, where they have established commercial spaces and local markets, at the same time benefits the Indian producers. The latter have found new markets outside India for their products, markets which they are supremely keen to cultivate and from which the Indian government wants them to extract valuable foreign currency” [pp. 112-113, my emph.].
- Further, although Daminis is located within the “global” markets [S.G.], it is at the same time an absolutely localized outlet involved in the customization of ethnic attire according to local customer specifications. This is how Bhachu puts it: “Daminis is now located in mainstream arenas and is also an established enterprise that has been around for almost the same length of time as Asians have been settled in London. It is using all the processes of the new technologies – the faxes, courier services, frequent calls to India, regular visits to purchase merchandise from India, the made-to-measure sizing, the customization according to customer specifications – to make it a business located within the global markets of the world that is at the same time absolutely localized” [p. 113, my emph.].
- The existence and operation of a clothes store such as Daminis London is a confirmation of the cohesion, vitality and relative autonomy of the phenomenon of “cultural clusters” within the inner cities of London – it is in their appropriation of “cultural space” on British soil that this is most evident. Bhachu writes: “The development of the shop from a peripheral suit fabrics and sari shop to a chain of four in the main established Asian centres of Britain… already reflects the establishment of Asian communities as culturally and ethnically confident entities who are appropriating cultural and commercial spaces in Britain to assert new forms of Britishness” [p. 114, my emph.]. It is precisely this “cultural confidence” and the tendency to appropriate “cultural space” that constitutes the “pull” factor of a “cultural cluster’s” aesthetics as to manner of dress – this is what obliges locals to abide by a certain “selectivity” of attire.
Factor IV: the question of individual taste and initiative
So-called “global” brand designs and stereotypes can be compromised by local customer initiatives, and especially so when such customers live the experience of a “cultural cluster” that is “confident” of its own aesthetics. Such initiatives as to style or manner of dress are usually purely individual, but they could also express the unconscious tendencies of a sub-group to abide by a certain taste in attire. Individual initiative regarding preferences is evident in at least two basic practices: [i] a self-designing of the clothes one orders from a clothes outlet; [ii] local tailoring based on customer instructions. We shall here merely point to a number of samples of such practices taking place in clothes outlets in the region of East Ham.
There are of course very many clothes stores in the area that offer alteration services to their local customers. Such services may not simply involve made-to-measure sizing – alterations can also be made in accordance with customer specifications regarding the design of a dress.
Zarkan of London is just one sample of an outlet that provides its customers with “alteration services”. Yet another shop is M&S Tailor & Alterations London which, as its name suggests, focuses its work on tailoring and alteration services. It is located at East Ham’s 449B High Street North, Manor Park. An East Ham local informs us as follows about M&S: “Great alterations done here. Pricey tho”.
Green Street’s Doli London is the type of outlet that does not simply sell Lehengas – it may also make them according to customer specifications. One of its customers tells us how she actually self-designed the attire purchased from this store [also cf. above, in our discussion of the Choli Suit]. This is how she puts it: “Great service, eager to please and individual needs taken into account. I had my lengha… made in a week and I also designed my brother’s groom jacket which they made accordingly…” [my emph.].
A second customer of Doli London writes about the outfits she purchased from the store as follows: “I… requested for many things to be changed and it happened exactly the way I requested…” [my emph.].
A third customer further tells us how she actively participated in the designing of her own wedding dress – she writes: “Great customer service. Bilal [either the owner or a shop assistant] helped me design my wedding dress and gave me updates on the design… The dress looked stunning” [my emph.].
A fourth Doli customer is absolutely explicit regarding the practice of individual initiative in self-design – we read in the store’s Facebook Page [posted 02.12.2016]: “I have shopped with Doli for the last 15 year[s] and they are like family [sic]. I show them the design and they make it happen. Great value for money…” [my emph.].
Self-tailoring is also evident in the case of a fifth Doli customer, who redesigns her wedding attire purchased at the store so as to express the style of a very specific ethnic group – viz. that of “settlers” from the Maghreb region of North Africa, which in her case happens to be Morocco. The customer writes in Doli’s Facebook Page [posted 30.04.2016]: “Beutiful [sic] shop I bought all my weding [sic] saris at Doli and used them to make Marocan weding dresses [sic]…” [my emph.].
In contrast to the streamlined production of the “ethno-globalized” fashion industry, private initiatives in self-tailoring and self-designing may naturally have their pitfalls as regards the quality of the finished product. Local tailoring in particular is often said to be problematic in a variety of ways. We may here consider the case of a clothes shop situated at 113 Green Street by the name of Khwaab London, which does a lot of tailoring. One of its customers has this to say: “Tailer [obviously meaning tailor] is greedy; takes way to[o] many orders and does not deliver on time. Also outfit had curry stains on it”.
Yet another case of problematic tailoring practices seems to be that of the Raj Tailor shop, located at East Ham’s 54 Browning Street, Manor Park. One customer writes: “Not going back to this tailor again, I gave him three kurtas [to] alter, made a complete mess of it… The stitching job itself is shocking. Very poor workmanship”.
Finally, we may present here a fairly detailed description of bad tailoring on the part of Raj Tailor, at least as presented by another of its customers. The complaints are recorded as follows [the language is more or less intelligible throughout, if read carefully]: “I gave him [the tailor] a salwar suit to stitch this tailor is appalling. First of all he stitched the salwar suit the salwar of which was not the size I asked for but shorter! On top of this I gave to Raj tailor lining fabric for the kameez. He ruined my expensive suit by using the lining fabric to make the salwar and the salwar fabric he used for the kameez lining. The colour of the salwar is much lighter than the kameez colour. After informing and showing him what he had done he refused to apologize and said it was not his fault and advised I told him over the phone which was lining fabric and what was the salwar fabric which is a complete lie. How can someone show the colour over the phone? Ridiculous… I cannot wear this suit anymore thanks to this ridiculous tailor…”
Factor V: the resilience of the East End clothing industry
As has been briefly pointed out above, the traditional local clothing industry in the UK – or at least that which is composed of ethnic minority enterprises – has been able to survive the competition posed by products of “ethno-globalization”. This reality is in itself a factor that may further compromise the apparently all-powerful impact of either R.G. or S.G. Local competitiveness could indirectly promote a resilience of local cultural aesthetics vis-à-vis “globalized” aesthetics. In this case, it would not be the “pull” factor of local aesthetic sensibilities that would undermine either R.G. or S.G. – rather, it would be the resilience of the local industry as such that would further boost such local aesthetic selectivity.
We are here specifically concerned with the ethnic-based East End clothing industry, which has its own history and is deeply rooted within the “cultural clusters” of the area. Panikos Panayi, in his study entitled Migrant City [op. cit.], informs us of the following historical facts: “During the course of the 1960’s and 1970’s Pakistanis or, more especially, Bangladeshis, and especially women, increasingly worked in the East End clothing industry, acting as a replacement for the Jewish community” [pagination unavailable online, throughout].
Panayi presents us with a series of important reasons as to why the traditional clothing industry in the East End – and especially in its ethnic-based composition – has generally been able to survive in the face of “globalization”. From a historical perspective, one may say that it had been the cheap labour provided by members of ethnic minorities to their compatriot employers that would allow the local, ethnic-based industry to grow. Panayi writes: “… the South Asians had a greater tolerance of poorer working conditions than native-born Londoners”.
It is of central importance here to focus on the economic function of ethnic minority “homeworkers” within the local industry. Panayi notes the following: “[Indian and Pakistani] homeworkers also worked for their countrymen who started up small businesses and could save on labour (by paying a cheaper rate, usually by piece) and factory costs by sending work out to the homeworkers. At the same time employers and employees often avoided paying income tax and VAT partly by making homeworkers self-employed…”.
Panayi’s observations are fully corroborated by the research work of the ESRC Centre for Business Research at the University of Cambridge – in a Working Paper on the British clothing industry published in 2004, we read the following: “In Britain, wage levels in this industry are among the lowest and were even lower before the arrival of the minimum wage in 1999. The industry in some areas has relied strongly on ethnic minority employees, many of them home workers” [cf. Christel Lane & Jocelyn Probert, “Between the global and the local: a comparison of the British and German clothing industry”, ESRC Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge, Working Paper No. 283, March 2004, p. 17, my emph.].
The Working Paper further confirms that much of the UK’s local clothing industry is ethnic-based and located in regions such as the East End – we read: “Ownership of the many smaller clothing firms is less well documented but, according to industry insiders, ethnic minority owners in Britain are prominent in the industry (constituting 35 per cent of owners…). They have given one section of this industry, concentrated in big cities like Leicester and in the east of London, its special character” [ibid., p. 15, my emph.].
Now, it is this confirmed reality – viz. the working conditions of ethnic minority workers employed by ethnic minority entrepreneurs – that would allow the ethnic-based clothing industry in the East End to withstand competition from either R.G. or S.G. Panayi himself draws the following important conclusion: “In this situation clothing production could continue despite the international competition from imported goods…” [my emph.].
Generally, one will have to conclude that the UK’s local clothing manufacturers – and especially the numerous Asian-owned firms – have continued to thrive and successfully compete with ready-made clothes imported from India [and by “ready-made” we mean the customized type as discussed when considering the case of Daminis London]. We shall here end our presentation of Factor V by quoting a short passage that clearly shows the robustness and relative autonomy of UK’s local manufacturers of Asiatic ethnic attire – the passage reads as follows: UK’s “[Asian] wholesalers sell the products created by hundreds of Asian-owned clothing manufacturers…, which in turn subcontract to thousands of smaller Asian businesses… [Ethnic] self-employment has created a parallel local economy owned and financed by Pakistanis, employing Pakistanis, and linked with other parts of the Pakistani diaspora both within the UK and internationally” [cf. Glenn C. Loury, Tariq Modood & Steven M. Teles (eds.), Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy: Comparing the USA and UK, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 435]. Such robustness and relative autonomy of the local ethnic-owned industry does not in itself tell us much as to what locals choose to wear in terms of styles and fashion-trends. In fact, it may be argued that the products of the local industry could simply imitate those of R.G. or S.G. [we are not in possession of data to either verify or reject such a possibility]. On the other hand, if one were to consider this Factor V in combination with all the other factors being presented here [and which would point to the functions of an all-inclusive combinatory], one could argue that Factor V may certainly contribute to a compromising of the styles of “global” fashion trends.
Factor VI: the relationship between clothes and religion
There is definitely a tight relationship between manner of dress and the religious practices of the “cultural clusters” in a locality such as East Ham. It is as definite that this does not apply to all of the members of these “cultural clusters” or even to all of the “clusters”. Yet still, the relationship is apparent in the case of sizeable segments of at least certain of these “cultural clusters”. For these segments of East Ham’s residents, the styles and fashion-trends of both R.G. and S.G. are either ignored or are in any case fully adjusted to the stipulations of their religious creed [or, more accurately, are adjusted to their ethno-religious cultural paradigm].
For those who abide by a religious creed – such as that of Islam – manner of dress may even be mandatory. We have seen that the wearing of the Abaya Cloak in particular is deemed compulsory so that women be protected from certain categories of men [cf. our presentation of the Abaya Cloak above]. Alternatively, we may say that one’s religious creed delimits the range of attire that one may or may not wear [we need remember here our reference to “modest-wear” above]. For such categories of people, their attire is directly or openly expressive of their ethnic culture and religion: for them, therefore, clothing is a carrier of existential meaning.
In her discussion of the Salwaar Kameez Suits [cf. “It’s hip to be Asian”, op. cit.], Bhachu verifies the assertion that that type of attire carries a very distinct existential meaning – these suits are, she writes, “very semiotically charged and powerfully coded attire” [p. 40, my emph.]. The locals themselves are obviously very conscious of such ethnic-based semiotic “code” – for instance, a customer of the J. Junaid Jamshed store along Green Street describes Pakistani clothes sold therein as follows: “The ethnic dresses here are amazing with so much culture embedded in each outfit” [my emph.].
The relationship between clothes and religion is well encapsulated by Lynne Hume, in a study very aptly entitled, The Religious Life of Dress: Global Fashions and Faith, Bloomsbury, 2013. Hume writes: “Religious dress is a visible signifier of difference. The message communicated is that the wearer chooses to follow a certain set of ideological or religious principles and practices. Dress distinctions function to set one religious community apart from other religious communities” [p. 1, my emph.].
The idea that attire can have a specific ideo-religious functionality within a community – viz. that of setting one religious cluster apart from another – deserves to be researched in the greatest possible detail with respect to at least certain “cultural clusters” in East Ham. That, however, is well beyond our means – in presenting Factor VI here, we shall merely point to instances where the question of ethnic attire is entangled with religiosity in some way or another. Such entanglement, in itself, would point to the ideo-religious functionality of dress, and thus to its role as “signifier of difference”. By implication, whatever styles and designs produced by R.G. or S.G. would necessarily have to adjust to the specifications of such functionality.
As has been alluded to elsewhere in this paper, very many clothes stores in the area of East Ham are staffed by locals wearing the Muslim Hijab. A sample case is that of Shiffonz, along Green Street. One of the store’s customers informs us as follows: “The ladies in hijabs are really nice and helpful…”
At least some of the members of staff at the Zarkan of London store also wear the Hijab. One customer, expressing her disappointment with the store’s service [cf. Customer service – the negative side, above], tells us that one member of staff wearing the Hijab was exceptionally rude – “especially the one wearing the hijab (who does she think she is pls)”.
Zarkan – like so many other clothes shops in the area of East Ham – is naturally visited by customers who are themselves wearing the Hijab. This can cause inconveniences when trying on clothes – one customer describes the following situation: “I wear a hijab and my neck and shoulders were revealing [i.e. exposed] as she [a shop assistant] pulled it off. This was very disrespectful and out of order… Shame on you Zarkan!”
The entanglement between clothing and Muslim religiosity is also evident in the manner in which Muslim customers often address – or refer to – Muslim shop owners, managers or assistants. With respect to females, the salutation is that of “sister”, which is of course directly related to Muslim religious and cultural practices.
A Muslim husband, commenting on his wife’s visit to the J. Junaid Jamshed store, writes: “Brilliant service from Sister Fawziyah in the store, she made my wife feel very comfortable…”
A customer of Shiffonz tells us that she was finally able to choose her appropriate outfit there “thanks to the very helpful sister Suhana…”
We may also mention here how Mrs. Damini of Daminis is often referred to as “penji”, meaning “sister” [cf. Bhachu’s Dangerous Designs, p. 103, op. cit.].
For the sake of interest, we may note in passing the sense in which Muslims make use of the term “sister” in addressing a female of the same religious creed. Anum Cheema, an “Architectural Photographer” writing in Quora [18.09. 2018], explains as follows: “When Muslims refer to each other as Sisters or bothers they are not implying in any way that there is a biological relationship there, you’ll often hear scholars say brothers in Islam or brothers and sisters in Islam, in my opinion, the term ‘sister’ in this context is used to describe shared thoughts, opinions, and beliefs and a way of showing respect” [my emph.]. Likewise, Sartaj Ali, “Owner at Ramdan.org”, and also commenting in Quora [11.05.2018], writes: “All Muslims are brother to each other… It’s something that create [sic] the trust on each other [sic]… As you know ‘Sister’ is relation [sic] but we also call sister every girl surrounding us because we believe all Muslims are brothers and sisters. It’s way [sic] to show respect it buildup trust and she feel secure [sic]” [my emph.].
Shop owners themselves, in addressing their customers, may make use of religious terminology expressive of Islam. Responding to complaints made by a customer regarding the quality of a garment, the owner-manager of Abru Classics writes: “… but in future we will try to improve more in shaa Allah”. As is known, the latter is the Koranic phrase for “God willing”. Again in response to another customer, the same owner-manager explains that appropriate measures have been taken to correct a particular problem, and these have been taken “in shaa Allah”. Of course, when customers are satisfied with the services of a particular outlet, they too will respond with the same Koranic phrase – a customer of Doli London writes: “In shaa Allah see you next time”.
All or at least most ethnic-based clothes stores in the region of East Ham actively engage in the ethno-religious celebrations and festivities of the locality’s “cultural clusters”. Their engagement can take a variety of forms, only one of which is to offer their stock at discount prices in the course of the festive occasion. In discussing “customer exploitation” above, we had noted that the Reva’s Fashions store located along High Street North would sell its Sarees at half their original price in celebrating the Hindu Diwali together with the relevant “cultural clusters” of the locality [op. cit]. The store’s Facebook Page presented the following post in October 2019 [the festival, as already noted, covers the October-November period]: “Come and celebrate this Diwali with us at Reva’s! Save up to 50% on all our latest Sarees, Dresses, Children wear & much more! Don’t miss out!” [06.10.2019].
The Reva’s store has been engaging in the Diwali celebrations with much consistency through its years of operation – for instance, back in 2017 its Facebook Page would present the following post: “Wishing all our customers a very Happy Diwali!! Wish you & your family a very Happy Diwali… May millions of lamps illuminate your life with endless joy, prosperity, health and wealth forever” [19.10.2017]. The reference to “lamps” obviously relates to the fact that Diwali is the “festival of lights” [op. cit.].
Reva’s Fashions, furthermore, has always been consistent in celebrating the Tamil New Year. Consider the following 2019 Facebook post: “Happy new year to all our customers. We hope everyone has an amazing day celebrating… tamilnewyear… Happiness may be yours… Prosperity may hug you… Peace may fall upon you… Love may smile at you… Puthandu Vazthukali!” [14.04.2019]. We note that the Tamil term “Puthandu” refers to the Tamil New Year or the first day of year on the Tamil calendar [it being April 14 of the Gregorian calendar]; “Vazthukali” simply means “wishes”. “Puthandu” is a cultural-cum-religious event – Tamils observe the day in a variety of ways, one of which is to visit their temples [cf. Paper 4a].
Similarly, this store would post the following announcement on its Facebook Page in 2018, again marking the Tamil New Year and related festivals: “Wishing Everyone a Happy Tamil New Year, Happy Vishu & Happy Vaisakhi!!... New aspirations… New hopes… New dreams… It’s a new beginning! May all your dreams come true and give you the joy that you had always wished for!” [14.04.2018]. The term “Vishu” refers to a Hindu festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala, the Tulu Nadu region in Karnataka, and elsewhere – its purpose is to celebrate an abundant harvest and is directly related to the Tamil New Year. “Vaisakhi” is another name for “Puthandu”, and is a term used by Hindus and Sikhs in North and Central India – it therefore also marks the solar new year.
Apart from observing the Diwali festival in the months of October and November, and the Tamil New Year on April 14, Reva’s Fashions also participates in the “Lohri” and related celebrations taking place in January each year. A 2019 Facebook post reads as follows: “Happy Sankranti… Happy Lohri… Happy Pongal” [15.01.2019]. As all these related festivals are observed by “settlers” in the region of East Ham – and that is precisely why the Reva’s store itself engages in such events – it would be of some use to very briefly explain what such occasions are all about. Firstly, and according to Wikipedia, “Makara Sankranti” or “Maghi” is a festival day in the Hindu calendar, dedicated to the deity Surya [Sun]. It is observed each year in the lunar month of Magha which corresponds to the month of January. It is a day the people of India celebrate their harvest – of course, need we say that while East Ham’s Hindu “settlers” do not in any way engage in whatever harvesting, they nonetheless observe the occasion for cultural and religious reasons. Secondly, “Lohri” is a popular winter Punjabi festival celebrated on January 13 of every year. “Lohri” is said to mark the end of winter, and is “a traditional welcome of longer days” [cf. Richa Taneja, “Happy Lohri 2020: know all traditions and rituals of the harvest festival”, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news, updated 13.01.2020; cf. also Wikipedia]. Finally, “Pongal” is a multi-day Hindu harvest festival of South India, particularly amongst the Tamil community. It is observed around January 14 [cf. Wikipedia].
The tight entanglement between attire and religious practices is clearly evident in the case of the Muslim “Eid outfit”, sold by very many clothes shops in the area of East Ham. This is a type of outfit worn by Muslim East Hammers to celebrate what is known as “Eid-ul-Fitr”. According to the Islamic Finder website [https://www.islamicfinder.org]: “Eid-ul-Fitr is a time of joy and Muslims embrace it by dressing up their best for the occasion… As the holy month of Ramadan approaches its end, Muslims… have started preparing for their yearly celebrations of Eid-ul-Fitr. This Eid marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the new moon sighting of shawaal [viz. the tenth month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar]”.
The “Eid outfit” is just one example of what has been described as “powerfully coded attire” or a “visible signifier of difference” – it is also an extremely popular type of dress amongst Muslims to mark the religious holiday of Eid. East Ham clothes stores are usually very busy as the Ramadan period comes to an end, with many locals rushing to choose their “Eid outfits”. A customer of Shiffonz confirms this when she writes: “I did not realize as it’s the week before Eid and it was very busy”. Yet another Shiffonz customer informs us that she had finally “managed” to choose her “Eid outfit” only after the helpful intervention of a shop assistant in the general rush of the pre-Eid shopping spree. Commenting on customer service at J. Junaid Jamshed, a customer writes: “We visited during Ramadan and give them the benefit of doubt of not serving customers may be due to the rush [anteceding Eid]”.
While it is evident that religion and culture are embedded in much of East Ham’s ethnic-based attire, it is as evident that elements of ethnic religiosity are also embedded in the everyday practices of the region’s clothes stores – such practices include not only what they sell but also how they do the selling of their products. Perhaps the single most important indication of how they sell and/or how they relate to their customers is encapsulated in the following passage regarding the East Shopping Centre [cf. its website] – we read: “Prayer facilities are available at East Shopping Centre. A prayer room is located towards the rear of the East Market… on the ground floor” [my emph.].
The reality of Factor VI functions in combination with all the other factors we have presented above. While it cannot be said to be the sole determining factor, the force of Factor VI certainly suggests that the fashion products of both R.G. and S.G. do have to adjust to its requirements. On the other hand, the specifications of ethno-religious practices may also have to adjust to R.G. and S.G. – but whatever the adjustments in this case, these can only but be delimited by the combinatory of all six factors as discussed.