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.”
“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.