A new controversy: American Apparel, a clothing manufacturer, has a new advertisement in which the picture of a topless model of Bangladeshi origin has the phrase “Made in Bangladesh” printed across her chest. The timing of this ad is quite interesting: In the same week that celebrated International Women’s Day with the theme “Equality for women is progress for all.” By shunning societal norms with this ad, perhaps American Apparel is suggesting that “Equality for women is pornography for all!”
AA was kind enough to provide a text to accompany the photo. It could be summarised in the following manner: The model named Maks was born in Bangladesh and, at the age of four, moved with her conservative Islam-adhering family to Los Angeles, where she subsequently found her true self by distancing from Islam and embracing elements of the “Southern California culture” of America, thereby, having no reservations about publicising her nudity. If AA thought that their short essay would assuage our sense of shock by providing some context and reasoning, they have failed on so many levels that I’m quite lost about where to begin.
Let me start with the basics. I’d imagine that it’s true for everyone that we buy clothing based on how they look and how we may look in them. For that reason, catalogues print and couture parade their clothing designs with models who wear them. In the AA photo, Maks is wearing nothing for a top, and what little is still visible from the cropped picture, her blue jeans is unbuttoned, revealing only the inner side of the jeans. Clearly, there is no intention from AA to project the excellence of their designs, if any.
AA makes a righteous-sounding assertion that the clothing is manufactured on American soil, by people who are “paid a fair wage and have access to basic benefits such as healthcare.” What is lost on AA is the reality that the Bangladeshi garments industry hires a strikingly all-women workforce, and is a symbol of women’s emancipation and empowerment.
Fair wage is a relative thing – if a woman can work and support her family with her wages in Bangladesh then why would that be unfair? Simply because her wage doesn’t apparently amount to much when converted to US dollars? After all, isn’t it the lure of globalisation that goods be manufactured in places where labor is relatively inexpensive?
There are quite a number of other disturbing messages that could be inferred from this ad. While the “Made in Bangladesh” is supposed to refer to Maks’ place of origin, is the missing top supposed to be a jab at the Bangladeshi garments industry’s inability to deliver the goods, given the country’s instabilities, political and other?
By juxtaposing Islamic values against American ones, is AA suggesting that one would have to shun the Islamic faith and its tenets in order to assimilate into the American society? “Sure, she was born in backwards Bangladesh, but now she basks in the American Light of Progress – just look at her so liberated and happy” – is that it? Should one infer that it is the American culture to unreservedly flaunt one’s nudity in public, that it is deemed normal in American society?
In thinking it through, I can only surmise that this ad was a feckless, reckless design by AA to utilise a photograph of somewhat pornographic nature, with a half-baked story to pass it off as sublime art ... made in Bangladesh, but maladjusted in America.