UK-based fashion retailer, ASOS, recently faced criticism over their new South Asian Bridal Wear Collection, with many saying that they seemed to have missed the mark.
This isn’t the first time the brand has been under fire for alleged cultural appropriation. Back in 2017, the brand tried to pass a South Asian tikka as a “chandelier head clip,” in a blatant example of a fast fashion brand culturally appropriating South Asian attire without acknowledging the culture it belongs to.
However, this time around, it is unclear if this is truly the case.
For starters, ASOS already has a bridal and wedding collection that caters to Western culture, as many fast fashion brands do.
On April 26th the company took to Twitter to announce they had “expanded their bridal collection,” including a range of lenghas and anarkali’s labelled as South Asian “bridal” attire.
But, is this collection actually considered ethnic wear?
Designed by 25-year-old Kishan Patel-Kerai from London, the collection features South Asian models wearing an array of embellished, intricate Desi clothing. The collection features a mix of Indian fusion and boho inspired looks, which makes sense because the designer of the collection is Indian himself and had pitched the idea of diversifying their bridal collection to ASOS.
ASOS stated the following in the description of each of these pieces: "This product is part of our new South Asian wedding collection. One of our ASOSers, who is South Asian, suggested we create more pieces like this, so we can make sure we’re offering the best fashion for a variety of occasions. He assisted in the buying, design and creation of these products to bring the collection authenticity, educated our team on the cultural context, fabrics and terminology, and had final approval of the designs."
The use of the words such as lenghas and anarkali indicates the company drew inspiration from South Asian ethnic wear and are targeting a South Asian audience by appropriately naming the garments, unlike their mishap with naming a tikka as a “chandelier head clip.”
ASOS was quickly trending on Twitter, with many in the South Asian community engaging in an interesting debate on whether to consider the collection cultural appropriation or appreciation.
The reviews have been mixed thus far, but most have been claiming that the collection is not considered cultural appropriation.
Others are also happy the fast fashion brand is diversifying their wedding attire range, and making it more affordable and accessible, given that many South Asian brands can be quite pricey.
And unlike some South Asian brands, they even used a South Asian model to showcase the clothing.
So where did they go wrong?
Many Twitter users were quick to point out the collection is in no way traditional Indian bridal wear, and that they thought it looked as if it is targeted to non-South Asians attending Indian weddings.
One critic slammed the company tweeting, "‘Bridal wear’ from where pls. This is a basic af outfit. The kind you wear to an event not a wedding. Plus stealing from our culture? No thanks, try again asos."
ASOS was quick to respond and within a span of 24 hours after the release of the collection, the brand had released an apology saying “we messed up” for labelling wedding guest attire as bridal. They proceeded to name the collection “South Asian Wedding Collection,” removing bridal from the name.
One critic of the collection tweeted: "Outfits for South Asian events are most often tailored to suit each person so when you have an event with 500+ people, everyone has something unique on. This seems like it just capitalizes off of our culture and jeopardizes small businesses in our community and it’s disappointing."
The commonality of the thread was that most individuals would prefer to purchase ethnic clothing from local businesses and support their own communities.
On the contrary, at least in the US and Canada, local businesses significantly mark up costs of Indian outfits, depending on where you shop. A typical lengha in comparison to any one from the ASOS collection, costing 130 EUROS (about 200 CAD), will cost you upwards of $350+ here in Canada.
What was clearly done wrong here was labelling wedding guest attire as “bridal wear.” Other than that, the reviews of the collection were pretty positive, and people seemed impressed with the quality of the clothing and the level of attention to detail.
There are plenty of UK, US or Canadian-based South Asian owned local community stores to support by purchasing from and that cater to all budgets. Nonetheless, that ought to be up to the consumer to choose who to support.
So, that leaves us to ask…
Is it cultural appropriation or appreciation? Would you purchase the pieces?
What are your thoughts?
Navneet holds a bachelor’s degree focused in Health Science - Population and Quantitative Studies from Simon Fraser University, cultivating a passion for health promotion, policy and social justice. She has recently found a passion in writing about pop-culture, mental health and living in a South Asian diaspora. Her passion for feminism, diversity and progress lights a fire beneath everything she does. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, travelling and baking.
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