Signature by Lipi Khandker – Touching roots with trends in the fashion industry with Go Digital with EZAssist

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RJ Shantu: On the 9th episode of Go Digital with EZAssist, we invite back to our show Lipi Khandker, MD and Fashion Designer at Bibiana, and Firoze M Zahidur Rahman, CEO and Chief Solution Architect, Loosely Coupled Technologies. The discussion on this episode will be centered around the fashion industry, and I’m sure many of our viewers are deeply interested in that. Starting with Lipi apa,

During the COVID situation, has there been any changes in the fashion industry style trends? 

Lipi: There has definitely been a shift in the fashion industry. People are stuck at home now, for a while when the pandemic started, people were entirely homebound with not much to do. Then work from home started, online meetings, classes, video calls with friends and family as a way of virtual celebration. And for women especially, I think their attire is very important. A lot of us who are into fashion like to dress up for occasions, and even with virtual events we continue doing so. Something that is different about fashion tastes now is that people like outfits that they can wear in different ways, in different styles. For Bibiana, the single kurtis and kameez that can be both casual or at-home wear, yet have some style to it, these dresses are becoming more popular. A kurti like that can be styled differently, maybe with a scarf, or tucked into pants, and they can be worn for video meetings, calls, or anything really when we have to make an appearance in front of people.

RJ Shantu: Do you keep these trends in mind when designing clothes? 

Lipi: Yes, we do. In 2020 we started properly maintaining our online channels. We had internet presence before, for some of our out of town customers, but now we’re doing that more seriously. In 2020 we started working with EZAssist too. We weren’t even aware that people could have such buying behaviour to fully adapt to online shopping, but we realized around Eid last year that people are adapting fast, and they are very interested in shopping for clothes. 

Jewel: If I may add a little to that, I think Lipi apa made some revolutionary designs with Bibiana. She launched a line of clothes only in blue and white colour schemes and that became so popular with customers. Another thing that’s important to customers is the size of clothes. She also launched the option to get clothes fitted to a customer’s size. Within 7 to 10 days, a customer can place an order for a particular product and provide the exact measurements required, and have it delivered. These had the highest response that I noticed with Bibiana. 

Lipi: We called that line the Blue Eyes. I attribute its success to the customization option, that’s the first line that we introduced this option with. And it was during the summer, and I think people liked the design and color choice catered to that. The entire line was made of different blue and white single-piece kurtis, and people loved that, and so we continued this.

RJ Shantu: We have a comment here from a viewer, “The clothes from Bibiana are colourful yet classy, as well as very comfortable.” Now, I myself am a fan of Bibiana. 

Would you say that your designs are made thinking about catering to the Bangladeshi culture? 

Lipi: When we started Bibiana, we intended to make a brand producing entirely nationally or locally sourced products. We’d incorporate that with our cultural embroideries for the designs. Cotton fabrics are the best for our humid weather in Bangladesh, and that is what most people are used to wearing as well. And aside from that, I wanted to highlight the embroidery and art of rural women in our country. I didn’t want to only build a business, I wanted to make a way for them to establish themselves with a source of income. 

As for the designs, I have a background in Fine Arts. I have always loved playing with colors. While I myself may not wear colourful clothing, I love to incorporate colours in my designs and put my soul into it. There are so many seasons in Bangladesh, and so many colors to go with each. So I love to do that.

Jewel: When I first started working with Bibiana, I was amazed by their concept. I myself am not very into fashion, I wear the same things every day. But, Bibiana had this one collection called Kobita Saree, with poems printed on each saree. And at that time, I thought it was fantastic. I hadn’t seen many fashion houses come up with things like that. And I know that it’s slowly becoming a trend now, but Bibiana did it first, and it’s also about the poem itself that is put on the sarees. Bibiana has been described as classy, and I think that comes from the balance between doing something unique that could possibly become a trend, and maintaining the core or the origin that can be sophisticated. They also have a beautiful Khaadi collection of white sarees. And all of their collections, the concepts that they come up with, they’re innovative and very affordable. Their clothes are accessible to a wide range of people. And these things make Bibiana stand out. 

RJ Shantu: We have a brilliant comment here from a viewer, 

“Every generation births brilliant artists, but there is only one Kishore Kumar. Every generation brings new brands, but there is only one Bibiana.”

Bibiana is undoubtedly a classy brand. It’s simple, it’s good for long days at work, for travel, for comfort. A perfect blend of fashion and comfort. 

Now, before the pandemic arrived, in a healthy world before 2020, people had the need for fancy designer clothing a lot more than they do right now. There were more weddings or parties to attend. How did Bibiana balance that change in the fashion trends? 

Lipi: We’ve had to think about and focus on the direction that we’d go. It’s not that people have completely stopped buying exclusive products, because they are still doing so. In that area we’ve noticed that for exclusive clothing, people like to purchase trendy products, following the fashion trends of that year. It’s different every year, some years people are buying jamdani, and in others they’re opting for nakshi. But in the pandemic situation, I’ve noticed that people’s tastes have gone back to the oldies. People are going for traditional Jamdani or Khaadi sarees now. And I think the primary reason for that is people are cautious about the longevity of their attire now, they want to buy an exclusive saree that will stay in fashion for a long time. The jamdani or khaadi designs are evergreen in our culture, worn by many generations, never out of style. And during the pandemic, people haven’t had enough occasions to go out. So if they buy an attire now, they want to be able to wear it to functions for years to come, with the uncertainty of the world right now. Of course, the purchasing power of the people have most certainly been affected, the customers who used to buy every other month now are unable to do so. They’re not buying clothes for every single occasion now, but sustainable fashion is now a concern. Many of our customers are looking for sustainable fashion, purchasing the designs that would last a long time. 

RJ Shantu: We have a comment here, “Aside from women’s fashion, men’s fashion at Bibiana is also remarkable and stylish.” 

Shall we speak a bit about men’s fashion?

Lipi: Most of our men’s fashion are family oriented, we make them with the idea that a whole family can wear matching attire, the mom, dad, and children. We try to make quality products that are stylish and comfortable, the fabrics produced in Bangladesh are of really high quality. But we don’t focus on being a men’s exclusive line, even as the name Bibiana would suggest. 

RJ Shantu: Now, our important topic of the day, you have a new line “Signature by Lipi Khandker”. Lipi apa is launching a new exclusive line known as Signature by Lipi Khandker, which is launching soon and you can get information from the facebook page of the same name. 

Now, would you please tell us a bit about Signature by Lipi Khandker? 

Lipi: For Bibiana, I usually design mid to upper-mid range designs, for people to buy. For a long time the drive to design my own exclusive fashion has been missing. But there has always been that need in me to create exclusive designs for myself. I did make some designs for fashion shows but then I’d stop, it was an on and off thing. But now, quite a sudden plan, I decided to start my own exclusive fashion line with ‘Signature by Lipi Khandker. We will be creating designs incorporating our authentic culture and heritage, using only locally-sourced materials.

The lockdown has been especially hard for the artisans of our country. With people staying at home, there has been no need to buy new sarees such as Jamdani or Tangail sarees. The artisans that make a living off of these are the ones suffering, they are women and men in rural or suburban areas of Bangladesh. I don’t want this art to go extinct due to the state of the world right now. They need to be preserved and taken care of. I have created some designs previously with Jamdani fabrics, and the response I got was beyond what I expected. I never thought that people would be this interested in dresses I made from cutting up sarees. So that’s how Signature by Lipi Khandker came to be, it is now in partnership with EZAssist that I’m starting it up.

Jewel: Bangladesh has an outstanding garments industry, whether it be Marks & Spencer or Uniqlo, the made in Bangladesh tag is everywhere. Again, the top fashion brands of the world call themselves Boutiques. Montblanc’s fashion line calls itself their boutique. Now, as the viewer previously called her Kishore Kumar, that’s for here. Lipi apa could of course grow her business being here in Bangladesh, or she could present herself as a global fashion house for the world. I think I have been pushing Lipi apa to pursue this signature brand. Whether it be 5 years from now, or 7 or 10, I want this brand to showcase the couture on world platforms, along with top Paris boutiques. 

Lipi apa has already done a lot, she’s successful. But now is the time for her to create the legacy. Other designers should find inspiration from her, that this is how high they should reach for. 

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

None of us are doing very well right now but I want Lipi apa to reach for this. When we were younger, a friend of mine once said something, “We are only as big as we hope for,” and for me, I hope that the brand Signature by Lipi Khandker, or LK in short, can get that far so as to become one of the topline brands for fashion. Her designs and the supply chain that she has built are quite capable of supporting this. And we have been pushing Lipi apa a lot, and she finally agreed to it. 

Lipi: I never consider myself that high up.

RJ Shantu: But the people around you do regard you as such. 

Lipi: I think that if I ever start thinking of myself as having achieved a high enough place in life, then that will be it for me and I will stop. But I never want to stop. With Signature by Lipi Khandker, I don’t just want to establish my business. I want to inspire other designers who might be looking to enter this industry. It’s time to utilize the knowledge and experience I’ve gathered so far to do something bigger.

Jewel: When we started working with Bibiana, I remember that Lipi apa said to me that their products have no margin to begin with so how would they give discounts? Today consumers are used to seeing Evaly or Daraz where there are so many discounts being given everyday. So the consumer trend is very different. For businesspeople operating stores, the customers know the store people and interact with them. But for online purchases, the mentality is quite different. When going online, initially we couldn’t offer discounts even if we wanted to. But now slowly with new and old products, Bibiana is taking the initiative to be even more affordable than it already is, by offering discounts. This is a great opportunity for consumers to avail this once in a while opportunity and buy some quality Bibiana products.

RJ Shantu: Maybe I’ll place an order right after this episode too. Now, Jewel bhai, 

Will you tell us a bit about how online purchases have changed over the years? How was it 2 years ago and how is it now?

Jewel: Obviously the people shopping online, or the sales volume for online shopping has gone up significantly over the two years. Now, people shop online because they cannot actually go out to shop. But there is significant room for improvement in the shopping experience that can be provided to people. When purchasing daily necessities like rice, grains or even coca cola, we know what we want and we place an order. But for something like fashion, we don’t have the same buying process. We browse and like a design or a material, we want to know how it feels on the skin, there are many factors that go into the purchase of a fashion item. In this case, an interaction with the customer becomes important. There is also the matter of fitting and size, so we need to handle a lot of uncertainty from the consumer’s point of view, will this dress fit? What does the size mean? How will the material feel? Does the color look the same in reality? There are a lot of expectations vs reality mismatch here. There is also the matter of delivery, when the products will reach the customer, and now with lockdown it’s even more uncertain.

But something very important to note here, even when people are sad they go shopping. In that case, in Bangladesh there isn’t enough fashion content. People are on Facebook for hours everyday, and when dresses and products can be shown online like a story, then it’s a stress reliever. Consumers can see online the sizes, how it looks, who is wearing it online and I think we have a long way to go. Since we work in multiple countries, we’re seeing these changes already arriving in Malaysia. People used to go to physical stores and like a product then end up making a purchase. But now we see even online, people end up placing an order for something from seeing the way that it’s presented. An impulse-buy, if you will. Another thing is, people used to buy clothes to show others. There was even a common saying, “I buy things with money that I don’t have to impress people that I don’t like.” But the pandemic has taught us to care for ourselves. With Bibiana, there was a dialogue when we first started working with them. “If I love myself then I dress for myself.” Basically, people now buy for themselves. The whole process is self-centric now. Lipi apa is doing a family collection now. A customer wants to dress herself nicely, dress her family nicely, and altogether dress up at home and look nice. It’s not just about going digital. Lifestyles and mentalities are changing, and so with it things are adapting. I think we’ve all gone through a rebirth of who we are as people. 

Since we care about ourselves a lot now, we are starting to realize that life isn’t for others. It’s for ourselves. Living well with me and my family. I think purchase behaviour has changed a lot too. We are realizing that everyone has a role in making our lives happy. We spend more time with family now, we make time to talk to our friends. And I think along with this shift, there is a shift in purchase behaviour too. And everywhere we see the local authentic products. Of course people occasionally have steaks or sushi, but as Bangladeshis we always go back to our origins with bhaat, daal, machh. People are going back to their origins. It’s not going back to our past, it’s going back to our origins and caring about ourselves.

RJ Shantu: We have a comment here for Lipi apa, thanking her for using our locally sourced national and cultural materials when many businesses are opting for expensive and imported materials. She also asked,

“There are many deshi brands that are using our local materials and enriching our cultural heritage. But, a lot of people still consider purchasing foreign expensive brands as prideful or a matter of class. In this case, how do we change their mindset?”

Lipi: This is a battle we’ve been fighting for years now, the colonization is still deep-rooted in the people. We are trying to create premium designs that are beautiful and we try to incorporate tradition with trends to attract our customers. From 2010 to 2015, I think that was the peak or the golden age of Bangladeshi fashion. Designers in Bangladesh are creating beautiful designs, but consumers are getting interested in Indian and Pakistani clothes thinking they are better. The availability and affordability of these clothes coming into Bangladesh are making consumers shift to that. A lot of customers compare the boutiques in Bangladesh with these mass produced products from India and Pakistan, but they are not comparable. I also encourage people around me to wear our deshi products. If someone owns 10 pieces of clothing, even if 6 of them are Bangladeshi then the industry would bloom. This year we didn’t just campaign clothes made from Bangladeshi fabrics, we sold other products and goods made by artisans in Bangladesh. During this harsh financial climate due to the pandemic, we have to stand by each other and make sure that we bring each other up rather than dragging each other down. These days if we see that a friend of ours has opened a restaurant then we try to support that business and get food from there. We have to support each other. We’re constantly trying to campaign for our Bangladeshi products, the fabrics manufactured here, the artisans. Jamdani is incomparable to any fabric in the whole world. People are even getting married in Jamdani sarees these days. We will continue on this journey to highlight our Bangladeshi fabrics and designs to the rest of the world, on a grander platform. 

We will continue on this journey to highlight our Bangladeshi fabrics and designs to the rest of the world, on a grander platform. 

Lipi Khandker

RJ Shantu: We’re near the end of our show now. A reminder for our viewers, Signature by Lipi Apa is the Facebook page for the exclusive collection by Lipi Khandker and do visit and check it out. Jewel bhai, is there any short word you’d like to say?

Jewel: Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasant experience to have this discussion with Lipi apa and you.

RJ Shantu: We have a few texts from viewers that I want to address. Now, I’m not singing praises of Bibiana because Lipi apa is on the show right now and this is about Bibiana, I consider Bibiana to be a brand close to my heart. Especially so because of how they support the local artisans and are bringing our Bangladeshi roots to the modern world. Wearing Bibiana attire just makes me feel like I’m touching my roots. We have comments from viewers here for Lipi apa, a lot of people are congratulating you on your new line with Signature by Lipi Khandker. One of the comments here says, “Lipi apu, your work with female clothing is amazing, but do give some attention to making clothes for us men too!” Lipi apu, do you have anything to say, any parting words?

Lipi: Of course I’ll try to work more with men’s fashion. I want to implore again to the viewers, please support our local, Bangladeshi products. 

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