In a bid to send out a strong social message, an American company, American Apparel, has ended up being uncomfortably offensive instead.
The ad features a topless South Asian woman with the phrase, "Made in Bangladesh" stamped across her chest. The phrase is meant to signify the woman, and not the jeans she is wearing, reported the Daily Mail.
The message is intended as a nod to American Apparel's fair labour practices: the woman in the billboard, identified as Maks, is an American designer of Bangladeshi descent who works for AA.
The statement from American Apparel introducing its ad campaign reads as follows:
“[Maks] is a merchandiser who has been with American Apparel since 2010. Born in Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh, Maks vividly remembers attending mosque as a child alongside her conservative Muslim parents.
At age four, her family made a life changing move to Marina Del Rey, California. Although she suddenly found herself a world away from Dhaka, she continued following her parent's religious traditions and sustained her Islamic faith throughout her childhood.
Upon entering high school, Maks began to feel the need to forge her own identity and ultimately distanced herself from Islamic traditions. A woman continuously in search of new creative outlets, Maks unreservedly embraced this photo shoot.
She has found some elements of Southern California culture to be immediately appealing, but is striving to explore what lies beyond the city's superficial pleasures.
She doesn't feel the need to identify herself as an American or a Bengali and is not content to fit her life into anyone else's conventional narrative. That's what makes her essential to the mosaic that is Los Angeles, and unequivocally, a distinct figure in the ever expanding American Apparel family.
Maks was photographed in the High Waist Jean, a garment manufactured by 23 skilled American workers in Downtown Los Angeles, all of whom are paid a fair wage and have access to basic benefits such as healthcare.”
The ad has, however, attracted heavy flak with critics slamming it as a 'distasteful' way of using Maks' body to sell clothes. They argue AA exploited a Bangladeshi woman's body in an ad allegedly critiquing exploitation of garment workers in countries like Bangladesh.
Company CEO Dov Charney has taken a strong and vocal stand against the dangerous conditions that prevail inside these factories.
"In Bangladesh, the problem with these factories is that they’re only given contracts on a seasonal or order-by-order basis," Charney told the LA Times. "There’s so much pressure to perform, some of the working conditions are outrageous, almost unbelievable. It has completely stripped the human element from the brands … It’s such a blind, desensitized way of making clothing." (Read more)
And to be fair, the ad is part and parcel of the AA PR aesthetic which has long combined socially conscious messaging with risque images of the female form. And it isn't the first time Charney has been criticised for using real women's bodies, especially those of his own employees, to sell AA products.
What makes the Maks image more controversial is the explicit connection to exploitation -- and the spectacle of a white male-run company using a woman of colour's body for commercial purposes. An article in the Daily Beast reads, "With dangerous conditions still affecting factory workers in Bangladesh, Charney deserves applause for his commitment to socially-responsible manufacturers. But, utilizing a topless, Bangladeshi model to promote the cause? That may not be the most tasteful route."
Of course, any allegation of exploitation runs inevitably into the fact of Maks's agency. She is an adult who made the choice to bare her body and was not forced into posing for the ad.
With all the attention on bare skin, few have taken note of the far more offensive cultural biases littered throughout the statement by the company which equates breaking from Islam with freedom and 'forging an identity'.By linking Maks' 'coming out' as a young woman to her breaking from her faith, American Apparel proves it is no less biased toward the very people it claims to champion.
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Updated Date: Mar 08, 2014 12:20:03 IST