Monday, March 10, 2014

American Apparel touts "sweatshop-free" with a topless woman from Bangladesh

Via American Apparel

Of course they did. Maks is a Bengali-American woman who works in their merchandising department. Here's the copy (transcribed by Stylite):
Meet Maks 
She 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.
How many buttons can AA push with one ad? They take a shot at the competition, like Gap, who were implicated in worker abuse and deaths in Bangladeshi sweatshops. They continue the sexual exploitation of young, attractive, female employees in their ads. They use this woman's ethnicity as a prop. They have a go at traditional Muslim notions of modesty. And, of course, they have everyone talking about them again.

I have no idea where this ad has been placed, or even if the advertiser feels the need to throw any media money at it. It's posted on their site, and has been covered by Elle, NY Daily News, Jezebel, The Daily Beast, SMH, HuffPo, Daily Mail, and elsewhere. Just more proof that the internet gives us the collective intelligence of a hamster in heat.


  1. Hi Tom:
    Not sure I agree with your thinking on this ad. I have also found myself getting uncomfortable with American Apparel advertising. In this instance, however, I am puzzled by your comments that this is sexual exploitation. The woman in the ad is clearly in charge of her own destiny; her exploration of faith and decision to explore her own "unconventional narrative" suggests a strong rather than weak personality. The ad itself is rather clever, referencing Bangladesh but then obliging the reader to consider the value of buying American from a company that offers a decent wage and health care. Like I say, I'm not a fan of other American Apparel ad executions but this I'm also not a fan of seeing all advertising through the lens of an almost puritanical sense of "we know better." This reminds me a little bit of the Miley Cyrus controversy this summer. At the end of the day, I believe women have the right to make up their own minds about how they wish to be portrayed and perceived and it isn't up to old white dudes like us to sit on some sort of moral mountain expressing our outrage. I have a strong feeling that Mak is a confident young woman who knows what she wants.

    1. Hey Gord. Thanks for your comment.

      I believe that this ad is cynical sexual exploitation of the female body for cheap attention. I also read the interview in which Maks declared her willingness to do the shoot. But I still think her body and ethnicity are being used as props for shock PR.

      Lots of people are willing to use their bodies to get noticed — Femen, PETA, Pride Paraders, etc. But whether they are volunteers or coerced, the bottom line is that in commercial advertising this is simply a case of "SEX! Now that I have your attention..." And in the context of AA's advertising, it just ads to a narrative of women presented as available sexual objects.

      Maks is free to do as she wants with her body. It's the advertiser who deserves scorn for lazy and cynical creative, and the social context it puts her in, IMHO.

    2. Hey Tom:

      I guess I would just like to hear a perspective from young women. In the case of Miley Cyrus, Seanad O'Connor wrote Miley a note describing that she was concerned that Miley was being exploited, to which another woman responded that it was up to Miley to decide how she expressed herself and that to give her less credit was to demean her judgement. That is what I am saying here. Mak has the right to make up her own mind as to how she is depicted. In the absence of any other data, I will trust her judgement over yours or mine.

    3. I consider Miley a very different situation. But yes, I'd love to hear more women's opinions on this.

      My point with this blog is just to point out what I consider to be the broader social issues addressed, triggered, or exploited by advertising. And AA is a regular offender.

  2. I would never trust what an advertiser says about a model's experience on a shoot. Let's look at the power dynamics here shall we? A young, Bengali, woman who has posed nude publicly -- which will have a huge impact on her credibility not only in South East Asia but in the US as well, and a multi-national corporation who routinely faces lawsuits against its founder for sexual harassment, who uses known sexual predator Terry Richardson for their campaigns even selling a camera for people to shoot like 'Uncle Terry' who was just accused by yet another model of sexual assault, and whose ads are consistently dehumanizing to women. That yet another woman was a prop in this system, is hardly surprising but that doesn't change the fact that these images are violent in and of themselves. You are right on the money Tom Megginson.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Sophia. I think Gord and I both recognized the need for women's voices in this.

  3. Glad to hear you both concerned about this. And also glad to add one more voice to the discussion. Here are links to the 'Uncle Terry' camera and latest accusations against Terry Richardson.

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