What's Wrong With This Picture?

In a country with a population of 1 billion and the average individual income less than $500 USD per year, it might seem sort of perverse to parade around a group of impoverished people holding expensive designer accessories and then photograph them for a fashion magazine layout. In fact, that is exactly what Vogue India did for their August 2008 issue.

Over half of India’s population lives on less than $2.00 per day. Yet, here in the glossy pages of this so-called “fashion” magazine, are images of a toothless old woman in traditional Indian dress holding an infant in a $100 Fendi bib, and an old man with holes in his dirty shirt holding a $200 Burberry umbrella.

The editor of Vogue India, one Ms. Priya “let-them-eat-gulab-jamin” Tanna was quoted in a New York Times interview saying, “You have to remember with fashion, you can’t take it that seriously. We weren’t trying to make a political statement or save the world.”

Ms. Tanna, I respectfully disagree. Welcome to the new world of Sustainable Fashion. This is precisely the kind of exploitation that has managed to rile so many fashionable people and launch a movement toward fair labor practices, ethical manufacturing, fair trade, and ecologically sound products.

Not to put the blame entirely on Vogue India, however; it seems that luxury brands are clamoring to get at the top 1/10 of Indian households which hold the majority of the country’s wealth. While millions of people sleep in filth with no access to running water, billboards and magazines full of Western status symbols taunt them, and at the same time, entice the Indian elite to own all the right logos.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a socialist. I don’t think everyone on earth should have the same amount of money or property or Gucci. I’m saying that, if by chance, you have been lucky enough to receive more than your fair share of this world’s luxuries, try not to humiliate and exploit the less fortunate just for the sake of “fashion”. As they say in India, that’s just bad karma.