A Karen Walker ad campaign in which Kenyan fair trade workers wear her Chinese-made sunglasses has been criticised as “disingenuous” on social media.
Walker’s ‘Visible’ campaign uses Kenyan machinists, cutters, tailors, production managers and metal workers as models.
The workers are from the United Nations’ ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, which aims to create work in community groups of micro-artisans located in urban slums and disadvantaged rural areas of Kenya.
Gallery: Behind the scenes of the new Karen Walker Eyewear campaign, photographed by Derek Henderson.
Walker’s collaboration with the initiative also includes commissioning the Kenyan artisans to produce the pouches in which the glasses are sold.
The initiative’s motto is “not charity, just work” and aims to promote sustainable business over aid dependency.
A press release promoting the campaign states: “The campaign captures our innate optimism, our love of maximum-impact in the images themselves and also directs attention to Kenya in a positive way. In short, the images help to bring visibility to how fashion can be a vital vehicle out of poverty.”
However, not all are fans of the latest campaign.
In an open letter to Karen Walker published on an Auckland blog, Aych Blog, Eleanor Barker voiced her concerns with the campaign.
“I like that you are selling pouches, which are made by Kenyan artisans… the mission to ‘provide work for marginalised people who have a strong desire to change their lives’ is a great one.”
However, Ms Barker said the juxtaposition of a “symbol of hyper affluence” on models who would never be able to afford them was tacky.
“These sunglasses are made in China. It strikes me as a real oversight by the Ethical Fashion Initiative to ally with a brand who manufactures their products in a country with an extremely tarnished history of sweatshop labour.
“The whole thing is so disingenuous when no one is asking questions around the dignity of the humans who make the glasses in the first place.”
Aych Blog editor Aych Mcardle said since the open letter was posted she had received a lot of support for both Walker and Ms Barker’s viewpoints.
“In quite a lot of the feedback people are critiqued the ethical fashion initiative and praising it as well.
Responding to the criticism via email, Walker said a modelling fee of $5400 was paid into a community fund, administered by the United Nations – a similar fee to what would have been paid for if the campaign was shot in NZ or Australia.
The photographer, Derek Henderson, also waived his usual fee, instead donating it to the same community fund.
The sunglasses were manufactured in China due to the high quality, advanced technology and reliable supply chain offered, she said.
They had never employed work environments that could in any way be considered unethical, she said.
The Chinese manufacturers were also inspected regularly “to ensure they meet our high standards, including matters of health and safety, child labour, freedom of association, wages, hours, disciplinary action, care and harassment, and discrimination”.