American Apparel is an American clothing manufacturer and retailer based in Los Angeles, California. Created in 1989, the company is known well for its controversial and provocative advertising campaigns. The sexually influenced advertisements are often criticized, but also praised for their lack of airbrushing the models. In fact, the company is known for accentuating the “flaws” on their models. Their advertisements usually depict a model with noticeable blemishes or asymmetrical features and then below the photo there is a brief description about the model shown.
A more recent advertisement by American Apparel that caused a social media outburst when it launched features a topless ex-Muslim woman born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the photograph Maks, the model who is also a merchandiser for American Apparel, stands topless while still sporting a pair of unbuttoned blue jeans with the words “Made In Bangladesh” written in Helvetica across her chest, slightly revealing a nipple underneath the word “In. ” Below the photograph is a brief description with a interestingly small font that discusses Maks’ childhood and her relationship with the religion of Islam.
The description ends with describing how the jeans she wore in the photo were manufactured by twenty three skilled workers who were paid fair wages and received basic benefits such as healthcare. Since the launch of American Apparel, the company pushed through social boundaries when it comes to their advertisements. Even scrolling through their website it is clear to see that they emphasize and praise the human body — especially the female body. It is almost safe to say that 99% of American Apparel’s advertising involves the use of sex appeal. Which, of course in the United States, is somehow always controversial.
Regardless of the fact that sex and the human body are completely natural, most Americans view them in a negative light. However, in many European and South American countries, the conversation about sex is completely normal and nothing to be upset about. American Apparel is undoubtedly aware of the fact that Americans will instantaneously be intrigued when it comes to sexual advertisements, whether they respond positively or negatively. This is most likely the reason for the use of Maks and her topless body to discuss the prevalence of sweatshops, unfair wages/benefits, and poor treatment of workers across the globe.
The marketers at American Apparel know that using an attractive and exotic female on an advertisement will catch the attention of everybody, regardless of their set of beliefs, gender, or age. Which is strange to think about because Americans are known for dismissing other cultures and/or not taking them seriously, but they still love to use people from different ethnicities for their own needs. Again, the marketers used a beautiful woman from Bangladesh to represent the workers in sweatshops, even though she herself is not one of them. This allows the audience, whoever it may be, to put a face on the problem.
The advertisement also uses a simple white background for the fact that since Maks is already shirtless, using anything on top of the sex appeal may distract the audience from reading the description below the photograph since the description is already written in a small font. Perhaps American Apparel is not the one to blame for causing an uproar, but rather the American audience for even reacting outrageously to this specific advertisement and every other advertisement the company has released. Although, if the advertisement for some reason featured violence, then there wouldn’t be as much attention towards it.
In spite of the fact that the United States is a melting pot of many different cultures, sex is still a taboo in this country. It could be because since the beginning of time on this country we were told at a young age to not speak of anything related to sex and females were often the ones being sexualized. Why is it okay for a man to show his chest, but if a woman does the same then she is shunned and called horrible names? All this does is tell young girls to be ashamed of their bodies and it allows young boys to think that a female who is showing off her body is automatically promiscuous (which, don’t forget, is shunned as well! This could also be the reason that many rape crimes go unreported in the United States.
Additionally, it could also be the reason that rapes occur in the first place. People aren’t that exposed to sex in the public that when they finally are they don’t know how to react. The explicit messages in this specific American Apparel advertisement is that sex appeal and nudity almost always work which is pathetic and troubling because it shouldn’t always work. We should be accustomed to viewing the human body nude because it is natural!
This also discourages other marketers from trying out different advertising tactics because they know that sex appeal will always work. The implicit messages are quite troubling in the sense that sweatshops and unfair labor is immensely unsettling, but still exist. We don’t hear about them in the United States, so we judge other countries for having these poor working environments yet we are the ones who endorse them. As long as they’re not on our land and not happening to our people then it is somehow okay.
Though not discussed much in the media, sweatshops and unfair treatment of workers is still a common issue faced by many people throughout the globe. American Apparel goes against the traditional manufacturing of clothes and treats their employees with the respect they deserve. To bring the much needed attention to the problem of sweatshops, the company launched an advertising campaign featuring a topless Bangladeshi model. Which makes many wonder, how respectful is this company then? Many people reacted quite negatively to this advertisement and claimed that it was too racy and inappropriate.
Even though, without the use of sex appeal nobody would even care for the issue being in the advertisement. This speaks more negatively upon the American culture rather than it does of American Apparel alone. If sex appeal in advertising is as bad as people try to make it out to be, then why does it work in the first place? Americans over sexualize the female body and shun any exposure to it. This is a huge problem in the long run when analyzing how children react to being taught from an early age that sex and the human body are a bad thing.