On first glance it may look like J. Crew took a slight detour from it’s all-American look with it’s new catalog. Titled “Bali Adventure,” the photos show images of Balinese men, women, and children dressed in their traditional religious clothing in front of cultural landmarks like a thousand-year-old temple. But there, smack dab in the middle of the image are our American friends wearing the preppy attire the designer is known for, perhaps with just a little Indonesian influence. At first the fuss over the photos seemed a little far-fetched but the more you think about these images and the likely way they came to be, it’s not hard to see why a lot of viewers are slamming the retailer, like one Instagram user who said: “Come on, J. Crew. Accessorizing with brown kids is so 2010.”
On closer look, the local natives do have the feel of being props. If J. Crew really wanted to explore a Bali adventure, why not place locals in their clothing or find a way to combine the worlds more so that it doesn’t appear like two American tourists just plopped down in the middle of a Balinese religious festival. There’s also the assumption of pay—or lack thereof. We can only imagine the paychecks these models took home for their photo shoot, but the other models/props/accessories? Were they compensated? One can only assume the answer is no, or they were given pay that doesn’t even come close to what these models were, and that’s when you have to ask, were these people being exploited?
The question falls right along the lines of Adriana Lima’s controversial spring shoot for Donna Karen in which local Haitians in the town of Jacmel were seen in the shadows of the photos displaying the model and the designer’s clothes. Like Donna Karen who included a caption saying the men and children in their ads were locals, J. Crew also includes notes with details about Balinese tradition and exploration of the culture on it’s website, but whether that explains away exploitation is up to the public.