Poverty porn or “authentic” branding? You decide.
World-famous Thai fashion house Boyy was accused yesterday of exploiting Thailand’s poverty to promote an expensive bag in a day-old ad campaign.
In a new social media campaign, the brand paired its Bobby bag with “authentic” Bangkok backdrops such as a fruit cart, public bus, tuk-tuk, and motorcycle taxi. For associating the B42,000 (US$1,350) bag with the underclass who could never afford it, Boyy was accused of romanticizing those at the other end of the nation’s deep inequality.
“Poverty is not your accessory. Poverty is a problem. Stop romanticizing and dehumanizing. Nobody wants to be poor,” Instagrammer Peachji wrote.
The bags start at B20,000 (US$635) and go up from there.
“What the brand is representing [are grassroots] Thais, not the wealthy class that the brand is targeting,” Instagrammer Natt.krai wrote in reply. “It’s so ridiculous that you put a 1-2,xxx usd bag in front of those who earn very little and would never be able to afford the bag. This is not cool. It’s inequality.”
The brand hasn’t responded publicly to the criticism but said yesterday that the video was a celebration of the “incredible cultures, daily life, and heartbeats of three cities that helped shape BOYY into what it is today.”
Thailand was declared the world’s most unequal nation in the 2018 Global Wealth report.
Some went so far as to accuse the spot’s creators of “orientalism,” as they assumed it was produced by Westerners.
Not only was that untrue, cofounder Wannasiri Kongman said in response to the bad reviews, but critics misunderstood the ad’s point and were not entitled to “explain” it.
“1. Who are you to explain our campaign???? You know it or you guess it? 2. This campaign [was] shot and created by Thai crew not foreigners. Do you finish reading the caption? Or you can’t understand [English]?” she captioned a screenshot of a critical comment.
She also said that the things people said reflect their own attitudes and biases, not those of the crew, which wanted to present Thailand as they see it. She also questioned why anyone would think that “people who do an honest job are poor.”
Boyy was founded in 2006 by Thai-Canadian couple Wannasiri Kongman and Jesse Dorsey. It’s sold in stores around the world.
This article originally appeared on Coconuts Bangkok.