Pictures of an underage bride draped in a gorgeous wedding ensemble, laden in heavy jewelry, pulling a cart-load of dowry with her groom sitting on top went viral on social media earlier this week.
The vision first made its way to the Bridal Couture Week runway as part of an exhibit by Ali Xeeshan. The designer, via his latest collection Numaish, raised awareness against the relentless custom of giving and taking dowry.
His exhibit was in collaboration with the UN Women’s Jahez Khori Band Karo campaign, and made waves on Twitter because of its truck-load of reality checks. Albeit well-intended, his showcase also raised a few eye brows as many questioned how a designer like him could voice the plight of the underprivileged when his own ensembles went beyond their affordability.
“Ali Xeeshan wants to highlight the dowry and wedding finance issues while selling lehengas worth 12 lakh. Ok,” wrote a user. Another commented, “Fashion is a luxury, if you want to raise awareness about lowering the burden of finances than think of the people burdened by the prices of your clothes.”
Following this, in a video shared by the Independent, Xeeshan responded to the backlash saying, “When I was developing it [the campaign], I was only looking into the struggles of girls. But later I realised that dowry pressurises the parents more.”
He went on to add, “I remember last year a client’s wedding was called off because one of the demands from the groom’s family was to have a gold-plated shaving kit. Many people say that you make expensive outfits, then why are you talking about this? These two are very different things – that [designing outfits] is my business and no one is compelled [to buy them].”
“If you can afford my clothes please be my guests and if you can’t then don’t put yourself under the pressure,” added Xeeshan. The designer concluded by saying, “Agar meray say koi poochay keh mere kapray khareeday ya beti ko education de, toh beti ko education day dein. Mein kapray baich loon ga.”
Xeeshan’s chief marketing officer Hafsa Babar had tackled the same arguments in a conversation with BBC earlier. “Purchasing an expensive wedding ensemble is your own choice,” she said. “There is no harm in buying one if you can afford it. And when we talk about Ali Xeeshan, then you need to acknowledge that everything he designs is to cater to the demands of a particular market. Every outfit is handmade, and it takes a lot of time and hard work to make even one such outfit. He does not compromise on the quality of the material used either.”
She went on to explain how producing high-quality, expensive ensembles did not mean one could no longer raise voice against oppressive traditions. Hafsa also pointed out how many of their clients even wished to invest more into their wedding outfits but could not because of the money they had to spend on dowry.
“One needs to understand that dowry is not just an issue for the underprivileged, it is also a tradition shamelessly practiced by some elites,” she concluded.
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