It’s about all of us. It’s about everyone in the South Asian community. It’s about that Auntie on the street, it’s about that girl over there, it’s about you.”
Every year Brown Man Clothing Co., the South Asian themed t-shirt company, holds a modelling contest attracting literally hundreds of applicants. This year the finalists were whittled down to: seventeen elegant, stunning women, nine handsome, dashing men, and also me.
While Brown Man Clothing Co. prides itself on having its finger on the pulse of young Desis, this was the least authentic South Asian event I have ever attended: everyone was on time, the staff was extremely professional, and no one, apart from me, was creepily checking out the models (How you doin’ Vinita. Holla girl!).
Arriving at their Mississauga studio, I was politely greeted, offered light refreshments, and asked for my t-shirt size. I went into the changing room, and slipped on the selected, medium, brown graphic tee. I strolled out and was directed to head down a short hallway and turn right for hair and makeup. Thus far the atmosphere was subdued and tame. However, the spacious hair and make-up room provided a stark contrast; this is definitely where the party was at. The room was filled with models being carefully styled and polished by experts from Adaa Artistry Inc. and the Fiorio Beauty Academy.
The encompassing space was so full of activity my presence was barley noticed. Sat in the waiting area, I picked up a magazine and pretended to flip through the pages while quietly observing. The models selected for the shoot varied widely in terms of body type. Similar to those of American Apparel, these models, while attractive, also retained an element of authenticity and realness. However, unlike the models of American Apparel, both hair and make-up artists were able to construct some unique aesthetic designs and original looks.
Faisal Tahseen, the owner of Brown Man Clothing Co., entered the model prep room looking simultaneously excited and busy. However, he still managed to recognize me instantly despite the fact that we had never met in person. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Faisal. Being raised in a Pakistani home, I implicitly learned to have a mild distrust of Pakistanis who were (a) Business men (b) Politicians, or (c) Played for the Pakistani National cricket team. Of course there are exceptions that prove the rule, or as Pakistanis call him, “Imran Khan.” I decided then and there that maybe Faisal Tahseen was an exception too.
Led by Faisal, together we entered a third less cluttered room which resembled a large empty garage or loading station. Several models, including the women of the Samsara dance group, looked thoroughly at home posing together against black and white back-drops in vibrant, vivid attire. Easily visible from this room was the outdoor portion of the studio where models posed against props which included: an ice-cream van owned by Faisal’s childhood friend Bradley, a car that resembled a powder blue 1964 Buick Skylark, as well as other outdoor urban and industrial materials and backdrops.
All models were asked to try on 3 pieces which meant I had time in between shoots to see how other models were getting along. For some, this was obviously a totally new experience which reflected itself in stiffness or a slightly confused, embarrassed look when a photographer would say something like, “just have fun with it.” Soni Dhingra, who recently graced the cover of Punjab’s “Musclejeet Monthly,” summarized the sentiment felt by most models, “it’s really all about having fun and enjoying yourself.” I should point out that Soni is the half-man, half-continent lifting me over his head.
Eventually, I was able to interview Brown Man owner Faisal Tahseen on one of his rare oxygen breaks. To ensure we had more privacy, Faisal suggested that we conduct the interview inside the on-set ice-cream truck. I enthusiastically agreed, and entered the treat-filled van with the older gentleman I had only just met.
Faisal, born in Karachi; Pakistan, was raised in a then predominantly white Scarborough by parents he describes as, “just the opposite of strict.” Although he struck me as an unadulterated businessman, Faisal explains that Brown Man Clothing Co. was an outlet through which he could express his creative side; in actual fact, the sentiment behind the clothing line runs much deeper.
Faisal was raised in an environment largely devoid of any South Asian contact. This did lend itself, naturally, to encounters of racism, but more so to a deprivation of cultural heritage. More than a way of interacting with the South Asian community, Brown Man was a way to “understand and know the South Asian community,” Faisal explains.
In a similar vein, Faisal describes Brown Man Clothing Co. in overarching terms beyond that of marketing, sales and design; “Brown Man isn’t about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about everyone in the South Asian community. It’s about that Auntie on the street, it’s about that girl over there, it’s about you.”
The modeling may have ended, but the contest continues at www.brownmanclothing.com where you, YES YOU, can vote on which model you think did it best. The site is filled with picture after picture of attractive Desis who would never talk to you in real life let alone bestow upon you the gift of eye contact. You know what I mean? They’re like the kind of people you would stalk on Facebook. You see a profile picture and you think, “Well, hello there.” Then, before you know it, you’ve gone through several vacation birthday, and club albums, and only manage to stop after catching a glimpse of yourself reflected in the screen of your monitor. You’re sobered by the shame as your mind quantum leaps to a future where your only romantic relations are cats that you’ve given bollwoodeque names like CATrina CATf and AshMEOWriya. So just be “normal” and visit the site.