Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

“Africa” For Sale September 11, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joselle @ 3:53 pm

This one will be hard to believe but American Apparel, with its bevy of underwear clad, vacant-staring models and a shady CEO, has some offensive ads out. The latest campaign is for their new line of hipster wares, simply titled “Afrika.” 

Tami of What Tami Said writes about the problem with these ads:

“The problem is distilling a continent of many countries, cultures, languages and peoples down to its wildlife and faux tribal print…

“When was the last time you saw a fashion collection of brown bear fur and Celtic prints labeled “Europe!” No one would buy a pan-European marketing ploy that blended Irish culture with prints from animals found in upper Scandinavia and Russia. Such a thing would be foolish. But no one can be bothered to know the difference between Zambia and Mauritania.”

Earlier this week, I saw another retailer selling “Africa” via a post on Swanky Veg, which sang the praises of Saint Francis Couture, a retail website that, as far as I can tell, specializes in horrifically tacky accessories. Even as a vegan, I do think a touch of leopard print can be stylish. It is, however, vastly problematic when the height of vegan fashion looks like an exhibit from the Museum of Natural History (veganism and the use of faux fur and animal skins is for another post). Saint Francis Couture states that they are “proud to present the cruelty-free Africa Collection.” Because nothing quite says “Africa” and “cruelty-free” like swaths of animal print and faux leather. And nothing signifies an entire continent like a couple of zebra-print hands bags kissed with fake gold.

Once again, Africa–a continent–is easily reduced to a few old stereotypes and exotified for profit. Additionally, by signifying animals who are routinely slaughtered and enslaved in zoos and circuses the world over, Saint Francis Couture is selling items that meet only the most superficial definition of vegan. By not extending its cruelty-free vision to the people or animals of the continent it is distorting and appropriating from, the veganism perpetuated on this retail site is simplistic and myopic.

H/T to newdemographic on Twitter, otherwise known as Carmen Van Kerckhove of Racialicious.

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8 Responses to ““Africa” For Sale”

  1. Leslie Says:

    I’m sorry to say that I disagree. If you think using animal prints in vegan fashion is wrong, then it’s safe to assume that any leather looking/fur looking product is also wrong because it looks like an animal. It seems to me like Saint Francis Couture is trying to celebrate the look of the animals that need help being saved. And they’ll do the same in the other lines like Equis and Oceanic. The animals being portrayed are beautiful and celebrating their beauty in a humane way seems like the best way to go.

    Although there is something to be said for not wearing anything that looks like an animal so you aren’t promoting that look. But we vegans don’t seem to do that. We imitate everything from meat to leather to fur.

  2. johanna Says:

    Joselle — Great post! I really, really wish there were non-sweatshop clothes available as commonly as AA is, except w/o the ever-increasing issues that AA has. Sigh.

    Leslie — what I find odd about your comment is the fact that there are lots of vegans who do not wear fake fur/fake leather/etc. as well as lots of vegans who don’t rely on fake meat products. It’s not like it’s some crazy unknown suggestion that Joselle is making. So… I dunno about vegans being boiled down to “imitating everything.”

  3. Ico Says:

    Yeaaahh… Just FYI, this is not the first time American Apparel has had racism in their images. This one wasn’t created by them, but evidently they approved of it:

    http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2007/08/27/what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-id-magazine/

  4. supernovadiva Says:

    It seems to me like Saint Francis Couture is trying to celebrate the look of the animals that need help being saved.

    How do you celebrate the animal by wearing their hides? Like American Apparel, she is making life and culture into a product. To me it’s not conscious, when you remove the face.

    Nobody names a faux skin line and name it “Alaska” or “Poland”

  5. Leslie, as I said in my post, I wear fake animal prints in small doses (admittedly, my Natural Museum History comment was more about fashion faux pas alert going off than ethics!). And I don’t have a problem with people who wear faux stuff, though I also completely understand wanting to avoid it. What I was trying to convey was my initial reaction to the website, which was just “Zebra! Giraffe! AFRICA! YEAH!” The over-the-topness and the problems with naming the line “Africa” and not recognizing how the animals’ skins and a continent’s name were being appropriated and then just proclaiming it cruelty-free, it smacked of not thinking deeply enough about what veganism can encompass. It’s not just about not eating cheese or wearing wool. It’s a totally different way of seeing the world.

    But you bring up an interesting and important point about fake leather looking like real leather. I was talking to my boyfriend about whether or not I would buy used leather or wool. I thought it was okay to do so because I wouldn’t be contributing to an industry built on suffering and I’d be recycling goods as opposed to buying new shoes that are toxic vinyl. He disagreed because he said it implied to others that wearing leather is okay. But what about animal skin-free shoes that look JUST like leather. Wouldn’t that convey the same message? It’s definitely complicated and that’s why I wrote in my post that the topic of veganism and faux fur/leather is whole other discussion.

    As for “imitation” meat, since many vegans were once meat eaters and many of us still want to enjoy the flavors of things we once enjoyed eating–saltiness, fattiness, crunchiness–without having to eat an animal, I see no problem with “fake” meat. I went vegan not because I didn’t like the taste of animals but because I don’t want or need to be a part of killing them anymore. So, yay to veggie burgers, which I ate when I was omni and many other meat eaters eat them, too.

  6. Leslie Says:

    Joselle,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I’ve been looking through your site and find that I both agree and disagree with you on many topics. I agree that the exotification an entire continent is problematic. And that too often we do reduce an area of the world to one part found to be particularly catchy. As for the shoes and bags that you find tacky, I think wearing them all together would not be the best look, but a pair of the cute shoes by themself, would look nice. But that’s just the style part:) But as for reducing the continent of Africa to an accessory line – I don’t think that was the intention but intentions, even the best meaning ones can get caught up in stereotypes. Perhaps naming the line Africa is too loaded. After all, the products are only focused on a few animals and certainly don’t represent all the animals, the people, the cultures or much else on the massive land mass. And to label it “Africa” implies that it is trying to do all that- capture the essence of a place using way too simplistic a vision. That’s something I think you’ll find all cultures do – boil things down to a tag line everyone can easily understand. The USA is a glib society and often doesn’t embrace the complexity that is all around us. So I guess my understanding is that you aren’t comfortable with the name – and not the actual look of the products. Although it seems you don’t like the look for aesthetic reasons. Like I said, I’m torn. I both agree and disagree. I think we vegans try to appeal to mainstream culture in order to make our ethics easier to understand. That’s why we promote fake meat, fur, leather, animal prints and whatever else. I don’t think every vegan does it, but certainly many/most do. I think the Africa line is trying to appeal to a larger audience with it’s look, while still paying homage to the animals. After all, the animals mimicked are beautiful and people often use something beautiful as an inspiration for something else. I can’t begrudge that without feeling like a bit ol’ hypocrite. I guess the name of the line is something I can see being problematic. A change in the name would make me more comfortable with the product.

    Again, thanks for responding…

  7. Kanika Says:

    As for “imitation” meat, since many vegans were once meat eaters and many of us still want to enjoy the flavors of things we once enjoyed eating–saltiness, fattiness, crunchiness–without having to eat an animal, I see no problem with “fake” meat. I went vegan not because I didn’t like the taste of animals but because I don’t want or need to be a part of killing them anymore. So, yay to veggie burgers, which I ate when I was omni and many other meat eaters eat them, too.

    So off topic but IAWTC

  8. Noemi M Says:

    Leslie said: But we vegans don’t seem to do that. We imitate everything from meat to leather to fur.
    I don’t know what vegans you are talking about, but this vegan does not “imitate everything.” The beans I eat look like beans.

    I think we vegans try to appeal to mainstream culture in order to make our ethics easier to understand.

    After all, the animals mimicked are beautiful and people often use something beautiful as an inspiration for something else

    these arguments are slippery slopes.


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