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Pakistani clothing brand Sana Safinaz slammed for ‘racist’ ad campaign; apology irks people more

Pakistani clothing brand Sana Safinaz slammed for ‘racist’ ad campaign; apology irks people more

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”.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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