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American Apparel_March2014

Did American Apparel go too far with this ad?

American Apparel has made headlines again with another controversial ad.

The brand, which famously featured 62-year-old Jacky O’Shaughnessy as its lingerie model, revealed its latest campaign with a bare-chested Bangladeshi model.

Posted on its retailer’s website, it identifies the model as Maks who is a Bangladesh-born merchandiser and has been with the brand since 2010.

The description under the ad then reads: “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.”

This I personally find ironic because labelled across her chest, by American Apparel, are the words: “Made in Bangladesh.”

I’m forced to question: If Maks did not wish to be identified as of a particular nationality, why pose for a picture that boldly proclaims: “Made in Bangladesh”?

Having my own roots tied to Bangladesh, I can attest that in the largely Muslim nation, an ad such as this would be highly inappropriate and unfathomable.

American Apparel told Marketing it was not commenting on the commercial.

Check the image out here: http://www.americanapparel.net/presscenter/ads/images/a9000/type3/9826_MAKS_AD_040314_LG.jpg

Here’s the full text that came along with the image:

She is a merchandiser who has been with American Apparel since 2010. Born in Dhaka, the capital 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 Jeans, 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.

In my opinion, the ad is also borderline disrespectful to the conservative religion of Islam where women are encouraged to stay covered. Under her topless figure, the ad describes Maks as “vividly remembering attending mosque as a child alongside her conservative Muslim parents”. In fact, it was her parents’ traditional ways that helped “sustain her Islamic faith throughout her childhood”.

I am not sure how going into such depth about her Islamic upbringing is necessary to pointing out that one can build his or her own identity. Was this simply a sly move for the retailer to take a jab at the conservativeness of Islam? I wonder.

And if you can actually grab your eyeballs away from her naked chest, you will see Maks wearing a pair of high-waisted jeans, which according to the garment manufacturer were made 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”.

Even if this was actually an attempt to raise awareness on the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse and make a balanced stand for the issue, I feel that an ad with a bare-chested Bangladeshi youth does absolutely nothing for the three million women in the Bangladesh garments industry slaving away.

 
Rezwana Manjur
Regional Editor
Marketing Magazine Singapore
Rezwana Manjur, a true blue city girl and complete social animal, spends half her time sifting through advertising scandals, and the other half testing out brands' retail marketing strategies at the mall. She enjoys traveling and fantasising over the charming lads on hit TV show Mad Men. Most weekends, she turns nocturnal, except when brunch comes into play.

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