As someone who grew up in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, I feel pretty strongly about sarongs. My father and uncles wore them, as did many men who wanted something casual, cool, and relaxed to wear in the equatorial heat of Southeast Asia. And an everyday sarong costs under $3. They’re the garment of the masses, a great equalizer, worn by both royalty and day laborers.
Then the BBC just pointed out that Zara made one for its spring line. On Zara’s U.K. website, it has been rebranded as a “check mini skirt” designed for women. Zara’s version even comes in the colors and patterns that are common in Southeast Asian textiles. Zara is charging £69 ($98) for this piece of fabric, which any of my Malaysian uncles will tell you is daylight robbery. The brand does not say the garment is inspired by the sarong (or the lungi or lenghi, as it is sometimes known).
I’m not the only one who is a little peeved by this casual bit of cultural appropriation. Asian Twitter just went up in arms. And one tweeter makes the very good point that the workers making this skirt were probably wearing sarongs pretty similar to it, since Zara makes garments in many Asian countries. And given Zara’s track record, it’s unclear whether they were paid a decent wage for doing so.
We reached out to Zara, but they declined to comment.
Looks Zara selling this Lungi for $70. pic.twitter.com/TEvVkqnpqs
— فزلور (@fazlurism) January 30, 2018
If you need an argument as to why it's important to have BAME people at every level in business and marketing, I give you the lungi-dads-skirt disaster by @ZARA where literally ANY Indian person could've pointed out in two minutes what the problem is with this ????????????
— Poorna Bell (@poornabell) January 30, 2018
What is ZARA thinking. Tryna sell a lungi for £70 when I can get one for 50 rupya
— anisha (@A_N_1_S_H_A) January 30, 2018