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American Apparel Uses Controversial Bangladesh Ad to Tout Its Own Ethics

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Made in USA retailer American Apparel recently released another one of its notorious ads, this time depicting a former-Muslim Bangladeshi woman topless in a pair of jeans with the words “Made in Bangladesh” stamped across her chest.

Amid ever-increasing concerns about the lack of safety in Bangladesh’s garment industry following the Tazreen and Rana Plaza tragedies and continuous factory fires including one just last week, American Apparel has issued a not-so-subtle reminder that they are manufacturing ethically in America.

The woman pictured, who refers to herself solely as Maks, was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and now works as a merchandiser for American Apparel.

The copy beneath the ad reads: “Maks was photographed in the High Waist Jean, a garment manufactured by 23 skilled American workers in Downtown Los Angeles, all of whom are paid a fair wage and have access to basic benefits such as healthcare.” And, following that, a final signoff: “Made in USA — Sweatshop Free.”

American Apparel is proud to be strictly made in the USA and says it pays its garment workers an hourly wage between $12 and $14, which it claims is the highest in the world.

The risqué retailer is accustomed to provoking critical comments about its often racy and over-the-top advertisements, but this particular ad struck a different chord for some.

Bangladeshi blogger for Elle.com Tanwi Nandini Islam said, “By sexualizing a phrase reserved for labeling clothes, we see exploitation at its most provocative.”

But Maks, who insists she was on board with the ad and in no way exploited told The Daily Mail, “I fully support the message of the ad. I love and embrace all cultures and religions. I am choosing to be creative and expressing myself freely.”

Islam added, “To me, this is a jab on Bangladesh’s garment sector. Composed of young Bangladeshi female workers, around the same age as Maks, disasters like the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse and the 2012 Tazreen factory fire have made death and exploitation synonymous with the industry. Fast fashion is big business, and many U.S. and European retailers, like Walmart, Gap, Joe Fresh, and Mango have huge stakes in the low-cost labor. Yet cutting corners has been fatal.”

Rampant negative media attention has forced the Bangladeshi government and retailers who produce in the country to make some moves toward compliance, but progress has been paltry. And while wages have gone up, getting factory owners to implement those increases has been problematic and the predominantly female garment workers have yet to become better off.

“Her [Maks’] unabashed nudity is a tacit reminder–this is what American Apparel looks like. This is what our fantasy of what Made in Bangladesh looks like,” Islam said. “Not a poor, underpaid, overworked young woman making you a $5 shirt for 30 cents an hour. This ad has little to do with the woman in front of us, and everything to do with the Bangladeshi female garment worker who remains invisible.”

American Apparel said it will not comment on the ad.

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