Is it right to use poverty to sell high fashion?

    What would you feel about seeing this: 

An old woman missing her upper front teeth holds a child in rumpled clothes – who is wearing a Fendi bib ( retail price, about $100).

A family of three squeezes onto a motorbike for their daily commute, the mother riding without a helmet and sidesaddle in the traditional Indian way – except that she has a Hermès Birkin bag (usually more than $10,000) prominently displayed on her wrist.

Elsewhere, a toothless barefoot man holds a Burberry umbrella (about $200).

This is the description from The New York Times Newspaper reflecting the debate in India where images of high fashion have clashed with scenes of poverty.
In Vogue India’s August issue which presented a 16- page vision of the season’s flashiest accessories and they are modelled by ordinary Indians. According to the magazine, they all got paid for posing in the photos.
The images have drawn some criticism in India, where nearly half of its population, about 456 million people, live on less than $1.25 a day according to World Bank figures released last week. A columnist for the daily newspaper Mail Today wrote that nothing was “fun or funny” about putting a poor person in a mud hut in clothing designed by Alexander McQueen.
In a statement sent to the programme, Vogue India editor Priya Tanna’s says “For our India issue, we wanted to showcase beautiful objects of fashion in an interesting and engaging context. We saw immense beauty, innocence and freshness in the faces of the people that we captured. Why would people see it any other way?”
What do you think? Are those images tasteless? Should fashion reflect social reality and should it be politically correct?
Please send us your comment.








27 Responses to “Is it right to use poverty to sell high fashion?”

  1. September 5, 2008 at 14:31

    Yes! It’s wrong. Efforts should be made to reduce not glamorize poverty. It simply sends a message “hey, you can advertise this for us, but you can NEVER afford it”. It’s like rubbing salt into an injury.

  2. 2 Jennifer
    September 5, 2008 at 14:34

    I agree with nelsoni.

  3. 3 Kelsie in Houston
    September 5, 2008 at 14:35

    Hmm…this is a bit tricky. I’m not sure what purpose the advertising campaign has: after all, the companies are not marketing their merchandise to these impoverished people, so why market that merchandise with those people? It seems somewhat humiliating on the ordinary folk’s part, as though the magazine is, as Nelsoni put it, rubbing salt into an injury.

  4. 4 steve
    September 5, 2008 at 14:35

    Only insecure people care about high fashion. I wonder how many cents per hour someone gets paid to make a $400 designer handbag.

  5. 5 Erin
    September 5, 2008 at 15:20

    All marketing aside… I see it as interesting art. A pretty interesting juxtaposition, and a social commentary on the disparity between rich and poor and India.

    The economist in me really wants to say…. “hey, they got paid, and now they are at least a little better off than they were before.”

    Even if it is slightly wrong.

  6. 6 John F
    September 5, 2008 at 16:32

    I think it’s perverse in the extreme.

    To encourage the conspicuous waste of money on overprices and patently non-essential goods is one thing; to use the images of poverty-stricken individuals who themselves could never afford these goods is sickening and utterly morally bankrupt.

  7. 7 steve
    September 5, 2008 at 16:35

    The saddest thing is that the poor people in question are probably so much happier than the matieralistic people who buy the products. Money can’t buy happiness, but so many people think it does, and hence live miserable lives and make everyone around them miserable.

  8. 8 Jessica in NYC
    September 5, 2008 at 16:55

    YES, it’s outrageous! Poverty suppose to be cool? These people are being exploited. Will a starving man turn down food even if he has too be humiliated in order to get it? It is like rubbing salt into an injury.

    Vogue has crossed the lines glamorizing poverty. Is the the effect of Bradgelina adopting kids from 3rd world countries?

  9. 9 steve
    September 5, 2008 at 16:56

    @ Jessica

    As I said earlier, I have a feeling that these people in poverty are probably much happier than the materialistic people that buy the products.

  10. 10 Jens
    September 5, 2008 at 17:14

    i think these images have to be taken as they are. they were published in vogue india. i personally find the idea perverse and as a result i would not buy items from this company. it is up to us consumers to vote with our feet. you do not like the ads you do not support the company.

  11. 11 Tom D Ford
    September 5, 2008 at 17:39

    Look at all the money they saved by not having to pay supermodels.

    This is the ultimate in Cheap-Labor Conservative cynicism and abuse of labor.

  12. September 5, 2008 at 17:55

    Every living able-bodied human being in this world has a duty and an obligation to try and make this world a better place, than it was when we were born, like it or not, believe it or not, one’s very existence in this world makes it so. Such a duty; as none of us can ever excuse ourselves from, does not allow us to be bad: we must all constantly assess our behavior and any others bad behavior cannot be an excuse. For serenity happiness and fulfillment a belief in one God, as The One Loving Father is essential and that belief also makes that duty a joy and a pleasure. It has to be only a personal belief, for anything other than that; such as thinking that we can KNOW, and by virtue of that; we have some God-given right to judge our fellow man, would corrupt it.

  13. 14 Luz Ma from Mexico
    September 5, 2008 at 18:10

    WRONG!!!! Absolutely wrong and perverse!!!

    I have always think that the “fashion industry” is frivolous, but this time they definetely crossed the line.

    How on earth they could put a $100 bib in a little boy whose parents probably make just enough to feed him?

    It seems like they are making fun of poverty. There is nothing glamorous about it.

  14. 15 Roberto
    September 5, 2008 at 18:11

    Vogue India editor Priya Tanna’s says

    ——— I say it sounds much like the American phenomenon of video taped Bum Fights where a shady producer finds some urban bum campout and walks up bearing gifts of wino brand liquors, and then leaves and waits to tape the coming drunken brawls for profit. Such an enterprising young lad.

    I’m sure if Ms Tanna needed a kidney, she’d have no qualms about paying one of these people 50 bucks for a kidney, ignoring that with their meager rations and poor conditions that this person may never properly recover from the removal of the kidney. Gee, thanks.

  15. 16 Luz Ma from Mexico
    September 5, 2008 at 18:14

    For a change, I agree with you! LOL 😉

    Well said about materialistic people and happiness. Bravo!

  16. 17 steve
    September 5, 2008 at 18:15

    @ Luz Ma

    This is a day that will go down in history.

  17. 18 Luz Ma from Mexico
    September 5, 2008 at 18:20

    I know… I am quite happy about it!

  18. 19 Jessica in NYC
    September 5, 2008 at 22:32

    @ Steve

    Indeed. Where is it exactly that in the evolution progress did we substitute happiness for materialism?

    Is it Friday the 13th? ALL WHYS on the same side, even more startling, you and I on the same side. Who would have thought the worlds apart was much closer than meets the eye.

  19. 20 Kelsie in Houston
    September 6, 2008 at 01:13


    You’re spot-on regarding who’s actually “happier.” It’s not having what you want, but wanting what you’ve got.”

  20. 21 Shakhoor Rehman
    September 6, 2008 at 12:35

    This is a good question. Advertising is legitimate to sell products in this way as long as 50% of the resultant revenue goes to the impoverished utilised.

  21. 22 Jack Hughes
    September 7, 2008 at 01:37

    Looks like a unanimous vote against the adverts.

    Maybe we should even go further than just a bit of hand-wringing and launch some kind of campaign ?

    How about K.W.A.P – Keyboard Warriors Against Poverty.

    We could get the Indian government to ban people on low incomes from modelling jobs ?

  22. 23 viola
    September 7, 2008 at 23:33

    I think the premise behind such advertising is disgusting. It is something like: “Look at our beautiful bag, how beautiful it is even when a dirt poor person carries it. Too bad they can never afford it. Aren’t you glad you’re not like all those poor people? You’re so much richer, so much better looking, so much happier–so much better. And our bags prove it. Our bags are so expensive those people can never afford one and you will never have to worry about being mistaken for one of ‘them.’ And if, perchance, you manage to save up enough to buy this ridiculous item, you, too, can share this euphoric sense of superiority over the common folk.”

  23. 24 Jennifer
    September 8, 2008 at 03:16

    @ Jack

    The advertisements aren’t appropriate but maybe they paid the models?

  24. 25 Katharina in Ghent
    September 8, 2008 at 10:26

    It’s a slap in the face, simple as that. There is nothing glamorous or romantic about being dirt-poor, and to decorate it with a Fendi-bib – which is most likely the first bib the kid has ever seen, is just plain evil sarcasm. Why don’t they show the CEO of Fendi next to the poor people, making a long nose and going “Nah – nah – nah – nah nah”? That would be more honest.

  25. 26 Jennifer
    September 8, 2008 at 16:16

    @ Katharina

    It is a slap in the face for obvious reasons. But, after thinking about it, there might be some perks.

    What do you think about if the models were paid?

    Do you think it would bring awareness to people who are clueless about what horrible conditions some people have to live in?

  26. 27 Prema Tamang
    September 9, 2008 at 06:41

    These days most of the things have become business in the name of the poverty. Not only Fashion but NGOs, INGOs and other business interprises as well. I feel like they are taking advantage and the poor people are like a business pot for the profit making people especially in the developing countries like Nepal, India etc.


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