American Apparel has widespread fame for its controversial marketing strategies. The LA-based clothing retailer is a magnet for controversy, with many of their ads using provocative images of women. And this isn’t the first time American Apparel has been caught out for its controversial portrayal of women.
One of the most recent ads – the above picture – features a topless model (Maks, a merchandiser for the company) with the phrase “Made in Bangladesh” written across her chest. American Apparel claims that Maks is an ideal poster child for the company, as “She doesn’t feel the need to identify herself as an American of 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.”
The statement about the model is enlightening about her heritage, but it also takes a stab at one of the biggest issues of the fashion industry: unsafe working conditions and sweatshops. In 2002 American Apparel claimed to be “sweatshop-free”, priding itself on creating and producing products in Downtown L.A rather than outsourcing overseas.
American Apparel is playing on the sexuality of a young Bangladeshi woman’s body, yet only as a pretext. With research gone into the ad, it can be viewed as a jab on Bangladesh’s garment sector. While Maks might’ve been made in Bangladesh, the clothes on her bottom are definitely not. AA claims that the High Waist Jean is crafted by “23 skilled American workers in Downtown LA, all of whom are paid a fair wage and have access to basic benefits such as healthcare.”
How great is it that 23 people made these jeans, what an insightful amount of information. In Bangladesh, 3.6 million workers make up the garment workforce – making up to $18 billion in annual readymade garment exports. The young women who are making these garments are the backbone of Bangladesh’s growing economy. Young women delay marriage and childbirth to work, they earn meagre pay, which supports their family or education.
Things aren’t always what they seem.
American Apparel is as ‘Made in America’ as Maks is, with her shameless nudity as a tactical reminder of this is what American Apparel looks like.
This is what the fantasy of what ‘Made in Bangladesh’ looks like.
Not poor, underpaid women who are overworked, making a $10 shirt for a mere 30 cents an hour. This ad has almost little to nothing to do with the woman in front of us, but it has everything to do with all of the Bangladeshi female garment workers who remain invisible.