What’s Your Brand?

I’ve subscribed to the feed for The Smart Set for a while now, and the essays have generally been thought-provoking (a Pakistani man describes his experiences trying to become a US citizen) or entertaining (the trials of teaching English to a Japanese woman obsessed with The Goonies). Yesterday’s entry was a bit of both: the cultural significance of the shopping bag.

“People have coveted luxury goods since Louis XIV invented couture. But it was a particular innovation of the postmodern era to turn this desire inside out — to emblazon the most expensive goods with the names of their manufacturers and thus demean the high-end consumer by turning him (or more often, her) into walking placards on behalf of the merchandise.”

And what better way than to get people to further advertise and associate their inner selves with products than to make the bag itself an object of desire? What a devious marketing ploy — make the logo/company name desirable in and of itself, then give people bags with that logo/name so that they can carry them about even when they’re not shopping, thereby extending the free advertising opportunities even farther!

This is something I haven’t bought into since I was about 20 — walking around with logos on your clothes, shoes, car, and so on. Why do people need to connect themselves with products and corporations? Why does what you buy make you “cool”? It’s not like wearing the latest Gucci shoes or carrying a Prada bag makes you special, because anyone else with the cash to spare can do the same.

I guess I can understand that wearing a particular brand could identify you as identifying yourself with a certain marketing image — a sporty brand, a slutty brand, a classic brand. I guess it’s no longer enough to choose clothing of a certain style, but one must be literally emblazoned with the company’s logo (enormous DGs on Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses, the ubiquitous Nike swoosh).

With children this seems to be more focused on character branding. The other day I tried to buy some new underwear for Napoleona at Target. Only the house brand came without characters. No plain white underwear, oh no. Even two-year-olds have to have someone’s face or name on their butt, evidently. (Don’t get me started on trying to find stuff that’s not pink. Just don’t!)

So we go to the other extreme. Most of the kids’ clothes (and ours) are ultra-plain. They can have patterns (plaid, flowers, etc.) but that’s it. We even put the kibosh on any words on the clothes, because it’s just too slippery a slope. One day it’s “Grandma’s Little Sweetie” or “Surf Paradise” and the next thing you know they’re swathed head to foot in Dora and Bob the Builder.

I feel like it’s dehumanizing to wear logos and characters. When I look at someone, I want to see the human being, not some cartoon or corporate symbol. If I wanted to look at ads, I’d watch TV.

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20 Comments

Filed under Deep Thoughts, Parenting, Rants

20 responses to “What’s Your Brand?

  1. I’m so with you. I don’t do brands, logos, words or writing, especially on my children’s clothes. If they have the odd garment that’s branded, it’s from an unknowing granny or friend (and they receive them joyously, which is particularly scary). But what I buy is plain, plain, plain. The added challenge here is that German retailers think it’s cool to have English words on clothes, but they don’t bother to check the grammar or spelling.

  2. renaissancemama

    This was so interesting. I started thinking about avoiding labels/characters on clothes after reading a book about how things are marketed to kids. I don’t want my kids to be walking advertisements. It’s sometimes quite hard to even find clothes without big labels all over them. I myself used to be one of those people who coveted certain bags/clothes because of the label- I’m glad I got over that 😉

  3. Our school has a dress code that forbids any lettering/ads/or logos on clothing. I’m all for it–it’s been nice as Hels has gotten older. When she asks for a branded t-shirt or something, all I have to say is “it’s against the dress code.” very helpful to the Mom with an adolescent 🙂

  4. Charlotte: I would love to hear some examples of funky “English” on German clothing. I’ve seen lots of examples from Japan, but never from a European country.

    RenMama: It is so hard to find plain clothes! Target is pretty good, and of course the more expensive Land’s End, LL Bean, etc. always have plain/classic stuff.

    Sarah: That’s something great about Waldorf schools, that there will be no worries about who has what cool character on their shoes or whatever. When we ponder the possibility of our kids going to public school, the pervasive materialistic cultural stuff is one of the biggest drawbacks. How could we maintain our family’s values in the face of the marketing onslaught?

  5. It is dehumanizing… even band-aids come with characters, and toddlers get angry, and don’t want Spiderman band-aids today, they want Batman! Crazy. Dehumanizing because the toddlers are learning to instantly identify themselves with something outside of themselves. Too bad.

  6. Nana

    I had an interesting thought after reading this entry on your blog. I can remember when there was a huge black market in the Soviet Union for Levis jeans. Which reminds me, it is next to impossible to remove a Levis label. However, I consider that label as a symbol of quality, not status.

    Which brings me to my next point. Since getting my first job, in the previous century of course, I have been somewhat compulsive about purchasing the best quality goods I can afford. Plain, but really good quality – I even cut out the inside labels from my clothing! I do this for 2 reasons. One, only I know just how good my stuff really is and two, those tiresome tags are just too annoying. I keep my stuff for decades so the cost is spread out over a long period of time.

  7. Bex

    Yep, we do our best to avoid all the crap too.
    Although, we are partial to pink! 😉 Xxx

  8. Hah! One of my favorite topics! Our school does not have a strict dress code, altough it is mentioned again and again on parents’ nights. We buy most of our kids’ clothes second hand, and so does my mother, who thinks that a huge Lacoste crocodile across my sons chest is just fine. And yet, I am not mad about this, because opur kids don’T even know what they’re wearing. My husband and I hardly buy (can’t afford, harhar) branded clothes, so the kids simply don’t know the brands. So if he gets a lacoste shirt, I teat it like any other shirt, and he won’t give it any more importance than that it’s a comfortable, stirdy shirt. (I WAS mad about the Bart Simpson shirt, which then had to become pyjamas. Not that my kids have ever seen The Simpsons, but I don’T want them projecting the image. Am I a hypocrite?)

  9. SusieJ: We have some Moomin bandaids a friend got for us in Finland. They are so unusual for us that they are like a special treat, not an everyday thing to whine about!

    Nana: I have experienced that too, that the “plain” stuff is often of higher quality than the character stuff. Another good reason!

    Bex: I think there’s a worldwide conspiracy to foist pink on us all! Did you know pink was once thought to be a powerful, masculine color and blue was thought gentler and for girls?

    Szilvi: My kids are like that too: they are unaware of what brand names mean, so it’s no big deal for them either way. So far, I’ve convinced them that all those weird characters out there are “yucky”! I don’t think you’re a hypocrite if you choose to keep an otherwise useful item but limit it to being pajamas. It’s a little cleaner and easier to say “no images at all” but the world isn’t always so cut and dried!

  10. I know how hard it is to find plain clothes– especially for boys it seems. When I gripe about character clothing that my mother buys for my son, she tells me ‘you’ve got to let him have things that HE likes!”. But it’s not that he likes them, it’s the companies telling our kids what they should like. I give him something purple because he LOVES the color. He likes pink too, but heaven forbid I give him anything pink. “You’ve got to let him be a boy sometimes” my mother will say. Who’s to tell him that he CANT like pink because he’s a boy! I’m so tired of consumer media telling our kids what they should like and how they should be. Further example; my little guy’s room has cute wallpaper with little tulips all over it. “It’s a shame your landlord’s wouldn’t let you paint his room” my mother said. The thing is, they probably WOULD let us paint it, but I don’t want to! It’s so beautiful, it makes his room like a little garden, perfect for a bright blossoming child, regardless of the child’s gender! Oh my, I could go and on, but I’m preachin’ to the choir here.

  11. Mama Randa: Welcome! My son likes “girly” stuff, which is a challenge in our gender-stratified culture. I did get him a pink polo shirt the other day…I felt it would be “acceptable” since it has a preppy history. He was very happy! I think people forget that kids don’t necessarily like characters to begin with, but they are reinforced so much that soon all the girls want is princesses and the boys warrior toys.

  12. I used to see some hilarious “writings” on clothes in Japan. My students came to class wearing absolute crackers. I wish I’d written them down or bought at least one clothing item for myself but, like you, I don’t really do brands and proclamations. When would I have worn it?!

    Apart from asking to wear “truck pant” (underwear with pictures of trucks) and the occasional TtTE loud garish clothing item, Kiko hasn’t pestered for brand clothing yet. I was really annoyed when I went to buy him a school bag for nursery, though. I just could not find a plain little rucksack and had to settle for Buzz Lightyear. I actually think there must be a business opportunity there – making nice plain functional clothing and accessories for kids. The trouble would be making them widely available when all the big stores are swamped with awful clothes.

    Oh and funnily enough, one of Kiko’s favourite teddies right now is a fluffy pink one which he has decided to name “Manny Teddy”! I’m so glad he’s still unaware of the masculine/feminine nonsense.

  13. We are very happy to have had our daughter grow up in a Waldorf environment. She is twelve now and picks most of her clothing, she loves to go thrifting with me and if she ever gets anything new she makes sure not to have any logos. When they are younger its harder for them to resist all those images, but by the time they are teenagers they begin to see the dupe.

    Glad you stopped by my blog, I’ve been by your blog a couple times. I saw your wood pile behind your house when I was there on Sat. and very inspired by the sound of your kids playing in the stream. It did make me really long for community. My partner and I were thinking seriously about moving there this winter, we are so isolated here.
    But there are pros and cons about any choice we make, and decided to stick it out here a little longer.

  14. Helen: Apart from Target (which I don’t think you have in Australia), I can only find plain stuff consistently via catalogs. Sometimes stores’ “house brand” is fairly plain. Or sometimes I get things that have something objectionable that I can remove, like a sewn-on patch, as opposed to something printed.

    Lisa Anne: I have to say, I am jealous that you can live on a farm! Though I know it can be a lot of hard work, and not exactly something you can let sit while you go on vacation. Pros and cons, as you say. (I hope you didn’t also hear me yelling at my kids to get out of the stream–they thought it was warm enough to play in the water, which it certainly is not!)

  15. We have Target here but I find I’m buying plain items for Kiko from the girls’ department there! The boys’ clothes seem to be extra loud and awful for some reason (and not just there, in every big shop I’ve been to). Last time I went in, all I wanted was a simple plain tracksuit for him but it was like searching for the holy grail. In the end I was forced to buy him a pair of girls’ tracksuit bottoms in black then get him a grey striped tracksuit top from K-Mart, the only other choice being a horrible green one with a loud “tough” proclamation over the front. Another thing I especially hate is the different slogans on girls and boys’ clothes – why do boys’ t-shirts have stuff like “Little Monster” and “Little Rascal” and girls’ have to be categorised as “Daddy’s Angel” and “Little Princess”?? GRRRR! Sorry to go on, as you can tell the clothes issue is one that really annoys me!

  16. Helen: I learned something today! There is Target in Australia, and Target in the US, but they are not related at all. Though from the target.com.au site it seems like they are pretty similar. I find I have to catch things far ahead of time as far as the season goes, because they stock things so early, or they’re sold out. It’s still quite chilly here, but all you can get is shorts and bathing suits! That whole thing about boys being little monsters and girls being little princesses is really annoying, isn’t it? And I really dislike the color choices…girls only get pink and purple, and boys get gray, green and blue? I hate that!

  17. I know what you mean. I always laugh at the people who buy, for example, a Polo T-shirt. A Polo T-shirt says one of two things to me when I see someone wearing it. It either says that person is stupid or sad.

    If all they could afford was the $50 T-Shirt, they are sad. If they spent $50 for a T-shirt, they are stupid. Or maybe it’s both… I’ll go with both stupid and sad.

  18. Nana

    Check out Land’s End on line. Lots of plain, sturdy clothes in bright colors (all cotton of course) which are non gender specific. And the pricing is friendly.

    Land’s End stuff can be exchanged at any Sears store.

  19. Nana

    I forgot to mention (forgetting to mention happens much more frequently as I get older)… Don’t get too uptight about those who denigrate pink, lavender or purple for boys.

    There are some very conservative business leaders and lots of burly athletes out there who do not hesitate to wear a pink or lavender button down shirt with French cuffs along with their pin striped suits!

  20. LA Daddy: The sad thing is that it’s been going on forever…30 years ago, I can remember kids thinking it was so crucial to have an Izod shirt. Dumb!

    Nana: Yes, those colors do luckily appear in the historically preppy wardrobe. Hence, I bought the polo shirt for the boy!

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