Are Indians wearing clothes meant for firangs?

The other day, The Guy and I had gone shopping for clothes. I was looking for some tees and tops and landed up at the usual haunts – Van Heusen, Allen Solly, Benetton… and other clothes available in Lucknow. And while I found nothing to my liking there, I noticed a rather disarming trend. The posters at all these stores showed women who looked nothing like me, sporting the clothes that these brands expect me to buy.

(L-R) Van Heusen uses fair-skinned female and male models, while Lilliput uses firang children in their ads. There are other such Indian brands too.

How difficult is it for clothing brands to understand that the Indian body type is nothing like the American/European type? And how difficult is it to see that what may suit the fair skinned folks may not be ideal for complexions in the Indian subcontinent? Why are they then selling clothes to us by modelling them on tall, super slim, fair women with blonde hair, near-flat chests and butts? At my slimmest, I couldn’t look like that.

Not just for women’s apparel. Firang models seem to be the preferred choice even among male and child models. Do clothes look more appealing on someone who is five shades lighter than the people they’re intended for? Or should Indians aspire to look like someone they genetically never can?

With more and more foreign apparel brands coming into our country, like Zara, Mango, FCUK and other high-street fashion brands, there needs to be greater awareness about customising colours, shapes and sizes to Indian standards. Otherwise we’ll have more and more men and women in the country (there already are enough, aren’t they?) trying to fit into clothes meant for people in an altogether another continent. For an average Indian woman, who’s more curvaceous than her counterparts in say Britain, shopping at these places is a pain. Because you enter a trial room hoping to look like that girl in the catalogue, only to realise that the clothes don’t fall on you the way they do on her.

But the onus of correcting the imbalance is greater on Indian brands, trying to lure the Indian consumer. I can for once think that a Mango or Zara, not being an Indian brand, has non-Indian models, but what justification is there for brands like Van Heusen and Lilliput to be putting firang models on their cover?

To be fair, I know there are market strategies at play that force these companies to decide in favour of fair-skinned foreigners over Indian models. I was reading a case study of Killer Jeans, an Indian brand of jeans, that wanted to posit itself as an international brand. So, they resorted to using foreign models in their publicity material, to give the impression that they are an international brand. Apparently, it worked.

But as a consumer, at least I would be convinced of the standards of an Indian company using Indian models too. Wouldn’t you?

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21 responses »

  1. you have a very valid point here and its a sad trend where these brands are kind of creating body image issues by using foreign models. i cannot have a body like them and when i go shopping i will end up feeling miserable because nothing fits the way its shown

  2. I read another blogger recently commenting on this. Can’t remember it happening when I was living in India about 6 years ago! Anyway, personally I wonder whether it is the ‘fair-skinned’ aspect of the models that’s more appealling. It’s funny…here in Australia we have had a few Indians for certain brands — guess who they are? Aishwarya Rai and Kareena Kapoor! Yes, the two who probably look least like your average Indian. To be fair to L’Oreal and Head and Shoulders (which the two were marketing) it wasn’t meant to be selling to any particular audience.

    I agree with your arguments but would like to add a couple of things: no matter what these models model, it doesn’t ‘fit’ your average person throughout the world. Majority of us are not a size zero! And the average Indian in India is actually a smaller size compared to western countries…when I visited 2 yrs ago, I realised in India I have to buy a size medium or large whereas in Aus I am an S or XS! Don’t like shopping in India I must say! 😛

    • The instance you give of Kareena and Aishwarya being used for international ad campaigns, I think the truth also is that they’re the biggest stars in showbiz here. Also, L’Oreal uses not so fair-skinned Indian actresses as models as well, like Sonam Kapoor and Freida Pinto.

      But I get your point.

  3. Oh I always wondered, how come these firang models look good in those clothes, whereas in reality nobody comes even closer to them when they wear such clothes. Perhaps, the good lighting, photoshopping and such..
    Guess they want to target the firang tourists when they come to India.. not us Indians… 🙂

  4. Well said! And well, for Zara, I must say that even the average Brits / Americans/ Aussies don’t look the way their models do.. so it’s about time they put their clothes on someone less anorexic and more realistic.

    • Using unrealistically skinny models in ads is another problem altogether that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

  5. oh same case with educational institutes…u see their websites and they will have all firang faces lounging about in campus/library etc!! even some newly established private engg college! Huh! and they expect us to believe that!

    • Yeah, right. I missed that. One would think that Indian consumers would be able to relate better to Indians in advertisments. Why are marketing strategists thinking otherwise then?

    • It’s one those things that’s all around us but because they make things look so pretty, we hardly notice them!

  6. It is also because Indians are the biggest racists! We *love* firangs and white skin and want to emulate them. kinda obvious why they are used in our ads no?

  7. Its about aspirations D. These brands play on the psyche. The idea is to make them desirable. Statistically, using foreign models has helped brands. They have graduated to be seen as something with more international appeal. Its all about positioning.
    Another aspect is that Indian models unless they are well known celebrities wont add too much value. Whereas a foreign face however unknown it is attracts customers.
    Well, thats my marketing professionals view point!

    Personally, also, there still is a large category of customers who still aspire to look like the women western countries!!

    • This comment is only from the branding point of view. i am not talking about the actual merchandising they store.

      • I totally know what you’re talking about. I even mentioned that case study of Killer Jeans because I realise there is some marketing persective at play here. But like I said, I’m not so sure what would happen if these brands did use Indian models to endorse them. For instance, Provogue uses Indians in its ad campaigns. They are celebs alright – Fardeen and Hrithik and others – but they’re Indian. And as a brand, it’s not a failure. So what’s the point of bringing in foreign faces? In principle, I don’t support it.

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