When you think of the Bangladeshi apparel industry, it is rare that you talk about design and creativity, and instead, it is images of garment factories and seemingly endless rows of women on sewing machines that come to mind more often.
Nonetheless, the multitude of Bangladeshi designers deserve the attention for the interesting work they do, more so because some of them are trying to break societal norms and customs.
In Bangladeshi society, the concept of gender is mostly binary. As such, society may say that fashion needs to be as well. Is that so? Mehruz Munir, the creative director and co-founder of Zurhem, and Mahenaz Chowdhury, the founder and chief designer of Broqué think this could not be further from the truth.
"The whole world is progressing towards a very different side of fashion. And that is gender neutral and androgynous. On this side [of fashion], there is no division and there are no lines between men and women," said Munir.
He added, "Zurhem has different sides in its personality and design philosophy. It has a serious side, and it has a playful, sexy side. And then it has a completely crazy, over the top side. A 'look at me and you can not miss me' side."
Zurhem's marquée piece is a jacket crafted from organza fabric, one that easily belongs to the 'look at me and you can't miss me' side.
In the traditional sense of the word, the jacket can easily be construed as 'feminine' but Munir and his brand Zurhem use no such labels. They have modelled it on men during their 2018 Spring Runway.
"I love taking bits from traditional menswear pieces, and putting them in womenswear. And then I love taking some of the feminine elements of a womenswear piece, and then bringing it to menswear and giving it a slightly masculine touch. Or sometimes, I will just bring it as is and make it on a men's garment," Munir explained to us.
It is easily evident that the latter occurred during the conceptualisation of the organza jacket.
Zurhem also bridges the gap between the ends of the gender spectrum by using similar or exact prints for both men and womenswear.
For example, Munir has designed a patterned peacock feather print, which was used both to craft a dress meant for women and a blazer meant for men.
While Zurhem's design philosophy makes no distinction between menswear and womenswear, many of its pieces can be construed in a traditional sense, for either men and women. Munir does not believe so, but for the majority of Bangladeshis, this is the case.
On the other hand, Mahenaz Chowdhury does not even attempt to make the distinction. Her brand, Broqué is marketed as gender neutral, and this stems from her fashion sense as a young child.
"The first thing about my sense of fashion, like how I have done since I was a child, I have always dressed in a very gender neutral manner. I never felt the need to be portrayed under a specific category," she said.
Mahenza believes gender is not binary, and rather on a spectrum. Broqué's model gives the opportunity for everyone to wear their clothing, regardless of where they identify themselves on the spectrum.
"[Broqué] does not follow a certain nature or a certain structure, just as gender does not," she said, adding, "we have been kind of given the idea that, 'Oh, gender is binary, it is either male or female and then fashion has to fall within the particular binaries, right?' I want to break that."
Mahenaz, alongside marketing Broqué as a gender neutral brand, has also pioneered the 'slow fashion movement'. The brand prides itself upon being a zero-waste label, and puts the environment before everything else.
"[The slow fashion movement] is the idea that we do not constantly have to buy something new. We need to put a stop to consumption, because it needs to come from us," she said.
She added that because consumers are not conscious about how they are consuming right now, it might create a horrible situation for the coming years, not just for us, but for the coming generations as well.
Both Zurhem and Broqué are pioneers in changing the fashion industry and landscape in Bangladesh, alongside other brands.
If this trend continues, it is inevitable that more and more brands will adopt gender-fluid designing philosophies and marketing strategies.
The status quo of a binary gender fashion philosophy is changing, and the battle is being waged one brand at a time.
Model: Syeda Taslima Hossain Nodi
Makeup: Glam Gala by Fariha
Hair style: Lush Look