Tuesday, 20 July 2010

MAC, Rodarte and Juarez: A Different Perspective

Much has been said over the last few days about MAC's latest collaboration with fashion house Rodarte.  If your attention has been elsewhere, the crux of the matter is that the collection, said to be "inspired by" a road trip that took in Mexican border towns, uses stark, ghost-like imagery and contains product names such as "Factory", "Bordertown" and "Juarez".  The reasoning behind the offence caused lies in the disturbing history of Juarez; a border town with a profusion of factories where the need to produce goods at very low cost means low working wages and poor conditions.  Young women are often raped and murdered, with such frequency that the town has become known for "femicide".

The product names, in combination with the ghostly imagery, are indeed in bad taste, given that the collection did not aim to raise awareness or funds for what is undoubtably a very worthy cause.  One might wonder how MAC and Rodarte were so short sighted as to not anticipate an outcry.  To their credit, MAC's response has been to apologise for any offence caused and to pledge a portion of profits to a Juarez charity.  But this, it seems, isn't enough for everyone - the outrage continues, with calls for the collection to be axed entirely.

I take issue with this suggestion. It stands to do damage rather than good for the victims; surely some money for the women of Juarez is better than no money at all. If the collection is indeed pulled, there will be no proportion of proceeds to be donated.

Whilst I understand the drive to get MAC to commit to a higher proportion of proceeds to be donated, the amount of vitriol being directed at MAC and Rodarte seems disproportionate to the crime.  Yes, they have named some products and used imagery in bad taste.  If this had been a charity collaboration from the start, though, with the same images and names, I suspect there would be far less controversy surrounding it.

There has been talk of MAC "exploiting" women by using Juarez-related names and imagery in this campaign without highlighting the underlying cause more explicitly.  Honestly, I feel that the backlash has the wrong companies in its sights: if we want to blame someone for exploiting women, we should blame the companies who operate the factories, blame the governments who don't protect women, blame the corporations who demand margins that make the low pay and poor conditions a reality.  MAC and Rodarte might have been insensitive, yes, but they are not exploiting anyone.  Conversely, they have inadvertantly highlighted the issue - ultimately, how many of us can honestly say we had heard of Juarez and its mistreated women before all of this kicked off?

Now that we do know about it, our energies would be far better invested in campaigning for organisations who make a positive difference in Mexico than in campaigning against the organisation who accidentally brought it to our attention.

For more information, visit the Wikipedia article, Amnesty's broader page on the Violence Against Women Act, or find out how you can help, visit Amnesty's Take Action pages.


  1. Excellent post.

  2. great post..good to have perspective. x

  3. Excellent post, Gemma, I couldn't agree more. Enough said really...

  4. Gemma, this is a brilliant, objectively-written post on the blogger/MAC Rodarte situation. I agree with every single point you have made, and it was very refreshing to read!

  5. You raised a lot of good points and it was good to see a different perspective on the situation.

  6. Well written post, you make your points well.

    If I may I would like to just raise a couple of points with you.

    As one of the 50+ bloggers who posted about this I don't actually recall seeing anyone calling for the collection to be axed entirely. I agree that would cause more damage than already caused.

    Vitriol; violent hate and anger expressed through severe criticism.

    I don't think there has been any violent hate at all, or even severe criticism. People wrote to raise awareness that MAC and Rodarte were releasing a collection which you yourself agreed was in bad taste.

    And also you say that there has been talk of MAC exploiting women by using juarez related names without highlighting the cause more implicitly and we should blame the goverments who don't protect women, and the corpations ego demad margins that make the pay poor. You say mac and rodarte may have been insensitive but they are not exploiting anyone?

    How about the money they will make from the collection? Surely that is profiting from the murder and rapes and mutilations of the women of juarez?

    I too am glad they highlighted this issue, but was it meant that way? If it had been a charity collaboration from the start as you suggested, with ALL profits going to help the area. There would have been no controversy at all.

    Again, a well written post which even if I disagreed with points I read with interest x

    Big Fashionista x

  7. well I'd never heard of this MAC/Rodarte collaboration but have been aware for many years of the reputation surrounding Juarez and the warped personal security situation that people and particularly women face there. Ultimately, however, thank you for posting this article!

  8. Thanks, everyone, for the comments!

    Big Fashionista: I have seen a number of calls for the collection to be axed, both on blogs and on Twitter.

    Vitriol: I would say that the criticism has been severe, and I would describe the anger as being quite violent (in online terms at least). While I don't agree with what MAC has done, they have made some fairly oblique references in imagery and in product names, and the response, in my opinion, has been disproportionate.

    As far as exploitation goes, if I call an eyeshadow "Dairy Milk Purple" am I exploiting Cadbury? If I call an eyeshadow "Earthquake" am I exploiting the victims of the Haitian earthquake? No. In the context of human suffering, it's distasteful, but in no way exploitation. The exploitation comes from those who inflict the suffering on defenceless peoples; and I'd much rather see the community campaigning against that.

  9. I would not like the collection to be elliminated either. I would rather prefer all the profit to be donated.
    Good post

  10. I don't think it's so much direct exploitation, as the commodifying of a group of people, their lives and their suffering for profit. Taking into account the product names, there can be no doubt as to what they were referencing. I do not believe that MAC are so naive as to be unaware of the 'inspiration' behind the Rodarte collection. They have far too many people whose business it is to know just that. If anything MAC took the Rodarte collection themes and condensed them further - making them more literal and transparent.

    Whether you agree with the behaviour of the beauty bloggers involved in raising awareness of this collection or not, the fact remains: if everyone had sat quietly and done nothing MAC would be donating zero pounds to the women of Juarez and launching a very distasteful collection.

    As it stands they are donating $100,000 and changing the offending names. I don't think anyone would wish those actions undone.

  11. I'm glad MAC has responded, and glad for the changes they've made. I still think the original concept was distasteful. Honestly - I think Twitter got a bit out of hand on the issue, in more ways than one. That's Twitter - it moves fast and sometimes it whips up a momentum that no-one intended. All the posts I read were pretty measured though, and I read a few.

    I do appreciate a different view, and I've linked to your post in my original article - hope that is okay?

  12. It is great to hear a more reasoned perspective on this. I did a quick post on Sunday about this, basically saying that although I thought what MAC was doing was inappropriate, people were losing sight of the fact that the real outrage is what is happening to these women, not what MAC are doing. I read many 'anti-MAC' posts which got their facts muddled, and didn't make any attempt to include links to where people could help support the Mexican workers - precisely why I wanted to write about it, but not necessarily be associated with the 'blogger outrage' that was going on. Great post. x

  13. 1) i agree that hating on mac/rodarte doesn't solve anything.

    2) i'm glad that mac decided to change the product names and donating $100,000 to an as-yet-specified organization. which brings me to -

    3) i hope that we will all continue to hold mac accountable to this promise. which starts with releasing info on who they're donating the money to.

    4) i still won't be purchasing any items from this collection. the fact that i know what they used to be called and the inspiration behind the line still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. yes, mac is changing the names, but the damage has been done for me.

    5) the silver lining: now, even more people are aware of the situation in juarez. awareness is the beginning of change and i sincerely hope that we don't all forget about these women after the mac/rodarte hubbub has died down.


  14. This is a great post and the comments raised are all valid. However I have to disagree with the point that Mac are not strictly exploiting the women of Juaréz. They may not be directly exploiting them but using names and images that refer directly to the plight of hundreds of women in order to sell products is surely a form of exploitation? If it wasn’t for the public backlash they wouldn’t be donating any money so their original aim was to sell products named and inspired after the city for profit. I think it’s hugely naïve to think that they could reference Juaréz without making the connection to the atrocities that go on there. They’re a massive multi-national corporation; they have teams of people who look after PR, so really there is no way that this was an oversight. Rather a PR stunt that has backfired. They have succeeded in raising more awareness of the plight of the women in Juaréz which is positive. Obviously the corporations that employ these women are the ones who exploit them, but I don’t know how it can be said that this campaign hasn’t exploited them too all be it indirectly?

  15. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/macrodarte/

    I agree that MAC/Rodarte are economically exploiting the murdered women of Juarez. They are also trying to exploit the ignorance of the consumer by selling us the message that femicide is beautiful. That woman in the MAC ad looks like a corpse in a mummy dress, and that eyeshadow looks like it has blood in it. Who in her right mind would find that beautiful and choose to emulate it? Only somebody with a psychological disorder.

    When I was young during the 1970s, cosmetic companies used images that conveyed vibrance, energy and health. What happened?!

    Rodarte has a clothing line in association with Target coming out in the fall based on this theme. I wonder where the clothes were made. Hmm...

    MAC/Rodarte should donate 100% of their profits to an organization that helps the women of Juarez. They have done this in the past with Viva Glam and AIDS. They can do it again. Sign the petition:


  16. I agree with you. However I must point that the money that MAC will donate to aid Juarez' victims will effectively do nothing, since the problem is lack of justice, not lack of resources. I know it because I lived in Mexico and everybody knows about this situation on the border: rumors have it that girls are raped, tortured (i've seen pictures) and killed to make snuff films, to have their organs taken, to use their corpes as "mules" to ship drugs to the US, as part of a "hunting game", etc. So, I can imagine that MAC and Rodarte's lack of sensibility wasn't well received.

    I think you must consider that MAC is finding a relatively easy way out of this, and that though there's not reason enough to hang them for it, they are making good profit out of the whole situation.

    It's true that because of MAC's faux pas more people are now aware of Juarez's situation, but if MAC really wanted to help and raise awareness, they could have dealt with it in more effective, less controversial, (probably less profitable but more sensible) ways.


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