Many a time, people from the West have been heavily criticised for cultural appropriation, be it Justin Trudeau’s recent desi avatars during his first India tour or Farrah Abraham wearing a lehenga or Coldplay’s video for Hymn for the Weekend featuring Beyoncé as an Indian girl. Well, this time the tables have turned with the focus on an Asian brand. A recent campaign by a Pakistani clothing brand is under fire for its ‘racist’ ad featuring their models along with members of the Maasai tribe from Kenya.
Sana Safinaz recently launched 2018 Spring Summer collection, and the promotional campaign did not go well with Netizens. Before the official launch of the brand’s Lawn 2018 collection, they released a few teasers and photographs, and soon critics slammed the clothing line for its racist undertones and imagery associated with slavery.
While in one image, it shows a Maasai tribesman holding an umbrella over a model, in another, many tribe members are seen performing around a model. The depictions were impossible to overlook. Soon users on Twitter and Instagram lambasted the brand for using the tribals as an “exotic charm”, many also slammed the brand for using them as a “prop” or a submissive “accessories” in the background, saying that it reeks of “racist, elitist values”.
— Karachista (@karachista) March 8, 2018
#SanaSafinaz learned nothing from their infamous ‘coolie’ ad campaign a few years ago. Now they’re at it again appropriating African culture and using black people as props. Apparently #racism sells! @sanasafinazoff pic.twitter.com/UDofKaWsiz
— Nida Kirmani (@nidkirm) March 7, 2018
sana safinaz a large pakistani clothing brand using native africans and their culture as props. yall still want to tell me the deep rooted racism in pakistan is not there? try again pic.twitter.com/jBEZUshAUY
— sosun (@sosunm) March 7, 2018
“Here is a major Pakistani brand using African natives as subservient props. You want to discuss how exploitative the West is when it comes to South Asian culture? Lets 1st talk abt the deep rooted racist classist regressive mentality rampant in our own communities.” #SanaSafinaz pic.twitter.com/AhUoBJxkC8
— Dania Ahmed (@daniahmed_) March 8, 2018
— sufiya ahmed (@sufiyaahmed) March 9, 2018
“Sana Safinaz, a large Pakistani clothing brand using native Africans and their culture as props. Y’all still want to tell me the deep-rooted racism in Pakistan is not there? Try again,” remarked a Twitter user. “Sana Safinaz using African culture as subservient props for a shoot is exactly why I’m not buying their lawn this time! This isn’t the first time this brand decided to appropriate a group of people who are often referred as disadvantaged,” wrote another, urging people to boycott the product.
I am sorry am I missing something here with this campaign? Sanasafinaz using these people as an ornament to selling their over priced lawn?? Mind blown at why they would deem this acceptable to the slightest. #disturbingAF pic.twitter.com/rVcWyXJfnF
— S H A H (@ShahTalks) March 7, 2018
#SanaSafinaz using African culture as subservient props for a shoot is exactly why I’m not buying their lawn this time! This isn’t the first time this brand decided to appropriate a group of people who are often referred as disadvantaged #BoycottSanaSafinaz @sanasafinazoff http://t.co/Vpkl0wvwq2
— Heena Khaled (@HeenaKhaled) March 8, 2018
let’s talk about the regressive, racist, downright offensive sana safinaz shoot. it’s 2018 & they think it’s okay to use black figures as accessories and exploit black culture as a means to sell overpriced lawn?
matlub koi sharam hoti hai koi hayah hoti hai.#sanasafinaz pic.twitter.com/pafXJA8O5r
— h (@HaadeaP) March 8, 2018
#SanaSafinaz supposedly wanted to celebrate the Maasai Mara but decided to use them as background props instead. This isn’t diversity. It’s cultural appropriation #smh #holdyourownumbrella pic.twitter.com/n65KYTZykV
— Bisma P (@BismaPar) March 8, 2018
— Shahzor Hashim (@SluggishDreamer) March 8, 2018
It’s not cool to use black slaves concept to promote your lawn. What were you thinking? This is culturally offensive. pic.twitter.com/1B2eTF89bx
— Nabeha Latif (@Nabehal) March 8, 2018
The new ad campaign by Sana Safinaz is such a pathetic mess. Their head of marketing needs to take some basic history lessons. Outrageous and disgraceful. This is nothing but sheer racism. pic.twitter.com/3hunj8sdsT
— Sheharyar Khan (@iSheharyar) March 8, 2018
Using people as props is NOT okay boycott #SanaSafinaz @sanasafinazoff
Though I’m not at all surprised. Desi elites live in their own little bubble, thinking they’re above everybody. It’s not solely a/t skintone, money talks, and it enables their self-aggrandisement. pic.twitter.com/U3BK1L8hln
— Maryyum Mehmood (@marymood) March 8, 2018
As the furore grew stronger on social media, the portal Mangobaaz reported, “Sana Safinaz has been deleting pictures one by one from their Instagram and Facebook pages”. While many alleged on Twitter their comments on Instagram criticising the campaign were deleted too.
sana safinaz deleted the comments I left under their posts on instagram… this is yall fav brand? can’t relate http://t.co/PgXR1n2j6k
— sosun (@sosunm) March 9, 2018
After days of backlash, finally, Safinaz Munir, one of the founders of Sana Safinaz, said the backlash against the brand was unwarranted. They later also issued an apology and tried to explain why they selected Kenya in the first place. “We do apologise deeply for any offence we have caused despite this never being our intention,” the statement read.
“Two years ago we read an article on the internet that talked about ethical tourism,” the statement added. “It describes the plight of African tribes that were being exploited. The article went on to say that avenues promoting responsible tourism exist that encourage and support local projects,” it added. They maintained that it was this avenue they had in mind when they decided to use Kenya for their vibrant project. The apparel company also underlined it employed the Masai people photographed for the campaign.
— Sana Safinaz (@sanasafinazoff) March 9, 2018
However, the tone of the apology did more harm and good to the outrage. “So #SanaSafinaz @sanasafinazoff decided to defend their racist ad campaign by framing themselves as the new white saviours, but at least the photos have been pulled down. Hope they and others will strive for more ethical advertising and labour practices in the future!” Pakistani feminist sociologist Nida Kirmani said.
So #SanaSafinaz @sanasafinazoff decided to defend their racist ad campaign by framing themselves as the new white saviours, but at least the photos have been pulled down. Hope they and others will strive for more ethical advertising and labour practices in the future! pic.twitter.com/bdGYjjNaIB
— Nida Kirmani (@nidkirm) March 9, 2018
This #SanaSafinaz ad says “my independence begins with me” while using the african safari as a prop. The images with the Masai people holding umbrellas for the models are even worse. Ditch the colonial fantasy please @sanasafinazoff http://t.co/sOfPROz1B9
— Sameer Khosa (@SameerKhosa) March 8, 2018
That statement/clarification/apology issued by #SanaSafinaz on their blunder of a photo shoot has to be the biggest load of crap I have read this whole week. Just accept it was a mistake, everybody does them and move on
— Omer (@raja_omer) March 9, 2018
— 1 Click Par (@1clickpar) March 10, 2018
Sana-Safinaz, ending world hunger one racist shoot at a time~
— چن ورگا (@BarkhurdarAchak) March 10, 2018
This is not the first time, the clothing line has received severe criticism for their campaigns. Previously in 2012, they received a lot of flak for their ‘coolie’ photoshoot. And this is not just restricted to Pakistan, in India, a similar ‘racist’ campaign showed a child holding an umbrella on Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s head for a Kalyan Jewellers ad in 2015.