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With its latest holiday ad campaign featuring a handsome Sikh man, Gap Inc seems to be hitting three birds with one stone.
1) Embracing ethnic diversity - CHECK
2) Keeping up the Movember spirit of facial hair - CHECK
3) Countering recent bad press among ‘brown’ people - CHECK
Firstly, this man is no ordinary Sikh. Indian-American designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia is a well-known member of his community and he joins other personalities such as artist and filmmaker Quentin Jones (above) in GAP’s Holiday 2013 ad campaign.
Sikh men are most commonly identified by their facial hair and head turbans. There are over 500,000 Sikhs in the United States and their cultural background is rooted in the religion known as Sikhism, which originates in India’s Punjab province.
The ad is being celebrated on the social media as an acknowledgment of America’s ethnic diversity and is a very clever move on Gap’s part.
In the context of South Asia (Where the majority of brown people live), the clothing retailer has come under fire in recent times for doing business with Bangladeshi exporters, who subject their garment workers to harsh working conditions.
One Twitter user, @TazzyStar, cut through Twitter’s congratulatory tone where she accused GAP of trying to ‘Brownwash’ the public to counter any negative sentiment towards its product.
It's called "Brownwashing." Don't be fooled by the gorgeous bearded Sikh man in the GAP print ad. Don't buy GAP. http://t.co/Z6ucVq4LoW— Taz Ahmed (@TazzyStar) November 7, 2013
According to a recent BBC investigation, a factory producing clothing for Gap and fellow retailer H&M, makes workers clock in hours from 7am to 10.30pm - sometimes without being compensated for overtime.
The plight of Bangladesh’s garment workers has been making international headlines since last year when a factory caught fire – killing over 100 people.
This year over 1000 people perished when a garment factory collapsed in April.
Currently, garment workers are in their second day of protest demanding higher wages from an industry worth $20 billion in exports. Many workers earn $38 a month.
“Gap Inc. cares about the health and safety of the workers in our supply chain. We are deeply saddened by the tragic fire and loss of life at Aswad Composite Mills in Bangladesh, and our thoughts are with the affected workers and families. At this time, we can confirm that Gap Inc. works with the parent company, Palmal Group, and while Gap Inc. produces no garments at this facility, on occasion in the past small quantities of Gap Inc. product have been made with fabric from the mill where the fire occurred. Gap Inc. continues to make significant long-term investments to improve fire and building safety in Bangladesh with our own safety program and as a member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.”
Since the ad was published it has had mixed reactions from the American public. Some have hailed it as a celebration of diversity while others have found it offensive.
One Alamaba woman was so offended by it, she approached the Gap salesman - Casey David Muir-Taylor - to voice her disapproval. The employee's response to her glaring racism created quite the buzz on social media because following the incident, Taylor wrote this 'ignorant woman' a letter on his Facebook page. Click here to read more.
Here is another photograph from the same campaign featuring famous rap artist, Nas.