Brand Blunder #96: Zara skirts issue of cultural misappropriation

Appropriating other cultures’ unique characteristics in marketing campaigns is an increasing brand issue.

Recently, I reported on efforts by the Maasai people of central Africa to protect and licence their culture’s unique visual identity.   High street retailer H&M also came under fire last month for a culturally-insensitive ad in one of their catalogues.

Now, popular fast fashion brand Zara is being criticised for releasing a product which copies a distinctive style of skirt worn in southeast Asia.

Zara call their new skirt the “Check Mini Skirt”.  However, many have been quick to point out how remarkably similar it is to the iconic southeast Asian “lungi”.

Criticism of Zara’s lungi knock-off are three-fold…

  1. Zara make no mention of the skirt’s cultural heritage.
  2. Zara are selling for USD$89 a skirt which is low-priced in its home market.
  3. The traditional lungi style is generally worn by older generations… quite at odds with Zara’s target millennial demographic.

For many critics, the best way to prevent cultural misappropriation – or at least, give appropriate credit to the culture being appropriated – is to employ greater ethnic diversity in business leadership positions.



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