At Copenhagen Fashion Week, Danish "Fashion Girl"-approved brand Ganni presented their highly anticipated autumn/winter 2019 collection, which set out to highlight sustainability and what they refer to as 'the global Ganni girl'. These loose themes were translated in both the clothing design, and more notably, the set of the show. As models walked the runway, showcasing the fashion house's shiny new collection featuring animal print skirts and glitzy gowns, images taken by National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale were projected around the room, showing impoverished women and children in developing countries.
Fashion writer and blogger Anaa Nadim Saber, also known as @OurSecondSkin, attended the show and was one of the first to speak out on Instagram to express her extreme disappointment in the brand.
"It is exactly women like the ones in these pictures that are worst affected by our industry: poor wages and terrible working conditions in sweatshops that manufacture clothing for many western brands," she wrote. "This treatment of women of colour is particularly painful given how 'progressive' the fashion industry claims to be. Stop being tone deaf and blind to your own internalized colonial mentality. Do better."
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GANNI LIFE ON EARTH FW19 AvaIlable to pre-order exclusIvely @modaoperandi @baezanny #cphfw • Creative Direction: @ditte_reffstrup Concept and Set Design: @moon_intl Life on Earth images: @amivitale Styling: @emelierjohansson Hair: @cimmahony, @studiocimmahony, @lessismorenews Make-up: @trineskjoeth, @rmsbeauty Production: @thelabcph
Criticism of the show has been widespread on the internet, although the issue has been cited as much bigger than a one-off mistake by a single brand. As Saber noted on Instagram, it's representative of the current state of the industry, falsifying inclusivity by using women of colour as props instead of autonomous people with stories and identities of their own.
After all of the blowback on social media, the brand made a statement to The Independent, saying: "While well intentioned, we now understand the sensitivities we've broached by showing our collection within the context of these images. We sincerely apologise for this, as it was never our intention. We will learn from this mistake and we promise to turn your invaluable insight into action so that we can do better in the future."
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I need to take a break from all this fashion week hype to talk about something that has made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Today, I attended The Ganni FW 19 show “LIFE ON EARTH” during Copenhagen Fashion Week, which was centered on “sustainability” and the “global Ganni girl”. Throughout the show, there was a slideshow of images taken by Ami Vitale in the background, depicting underprivileged women in developing countries, while models gallivanted across the runway. How were these pictures of poor brown women aligned with the theme of of sustainability? How did this show benefit these women? The brand fetishized these women and used them as props and marketing tools. This was not a platform for these marginalized women to get representation; they were not treated as humans with agency and with stories of their own to tell. Instead, they are shown through the ‘white’ gaze, reduced only to their aesthetic value. It looked “cool” in the background, right? It “gelled well” with the aesthetic of depicting the “human spirit”, right? Wrong. My people are not your aesthetic. It’s worrying how this got approved. From the photography to the set design, did this pass before any people of color? Did nobody in management realize how this would be perceived by non-white audience members? This is why building diverse teams is critical. The fashion industry likes to throw around buzzwords like “diversity, inclusivity, and sustainability”, without introspecting on how exactly they are promoting these causes. It is unlikely that the women in these photographs received any compensation for “participating” in this show, while the brand profits. This is not just meant to call out Ganni for being problematic. This is a larger pattern of exploitation in the fashion industry. It is exactly women like the ones in these pictures that are worst affected by our industry: poor wages and terrible working conditions in sweatshops that manufacture clothing for many western brands. This treatment of women of color is particularly painful given how “progressive” the fashion industry claims to be. Stop being tone deaf and blind to your own internalized colonial mentality. Do better.
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