NEW YORK – Singer Pharrell Williams celebrated Holi in India, this month. He posted photos of him smeared in gulaal, on social media. His fans loved it. Williams seemed to love Holi and its zany colors so much that he, along with the collaboration of the sportswear corporation Adidas, has launched a new line of colorfully splashed and splotched shoes, T-shirts and jackets entitled ‘Hu Holi’.
Now, that’s not gone down well with a lot of people. Some accuse Williams of cultural appropriation. Others condemned him for defiling a Hindu religious and sacred festival.
The Nevada-based Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, lamented the launch of the ‘Hu Holi’ collection. He urged Williams and Adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted to rename their Holi shoes, which he said were highly insensitive as the religious festival of Holi was linked to various deities.
“Pharrell Williams and Adidas should have done some homework before taking Hinduism concepts frivolously and using these to make a fashion statement and sell shoes for mercantile greed, some of which contain leather,” said Zed, in a statement.
Twelve Hu Holi shoes, ranging between $95 and $250, appear on the Adidas website: five of which are “coming soon”, six are “new” and one is “sold out”. The general release date is March 16, while pre-release was on March 2.
The Herzogenaurach, Germany-based Adidas, which was founded in 1924, and claims to produce more than 850 million products annually, in a statement, acknowledged that “inspired by a Hindu festival, artist Pharrell Williams designs these shoes”. Adidas describes Holi as ancient spiritual festival.
However, going by a spokesperson’s statement to the Independent, it doesn’t seem Adidas or Williams has any plans, as yet, to change the name of the collection.
“Adidas Originals and Pharrell Williams created Hu as a global platform to inspire positive change. Hu was founded upon the principles of unity, equality, humanity, and color with an intention to explore humanity and celebrate diversity around the world. Together Adidas Originals and Pharrell Williams use the platform to help tell stories of others from around the globe,” the statement said.
The Independent noted there was anger on social media for Williams and Adidas not giving credit to India, for the cultural appropriation.
“Something about Adidas’ new collection screams cultural appropriation…Using our festival to sell a brand, and it’s shoes on top of it all, which Hindus would easily take offence to and there’s not even an Indian celeb at the face of it,” one person wrote, on Twitter.
Another added: “A European company getting an American musician to market a line of apparel/footwear inspired by an Indian festival. Yuppp, technically, this is cultural appropriation.”
Williams and Adidas are not the first, and are definitely not going to be the last, to be fascinated by colors in India; be compelled to insert colorful ‘images’ from India onto commercial products.
The Brooklyn-based e-commerce company Etsy seem hypnotized by Lord Ganesha, to the point that despite being warned in the past, they continue to use images of the beloved Hindu God, to the chagrin of Hindus worldwide.
In July, 2017, after Etsy was forced by agitated Hindus to withdraw a newly launched toilet seat carrying image of Lord Ganesha, they have now decided to try out their ‘luck’ again: this time they have launched “cute flip flops” with the image of Ganesha, for $25.
Zed has written to Etsy and its CEO Josh Silverman, reminding them that “Hindus considered it a sacrilege to trample his image under one’s feet. Inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotees.”
The trivialization and commercialization of Hindu deities is nothing new.
Ganesha seems to be a favorite of manufacturers catering to the needs of one’s foot: recently, Amazon removed Lord Ganesha stockings after a protest. Last May, the New Jersey-based online retailer Zayze Activewear had apologized and then removed Shiva-Ganesha leggings.
Last November, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based fashion active wear company GearBunch had introduced leggings, capris and bedding carrying images of Ganesha, priced from $87.99 – $189.
Recently, the online seller Wayfair had launched, and then later removed, a line of ‘Birchwood Golden Ganesha Elephant Cutting Board’ which they priced at $34.99. Walmart had abruptly stopped the sale of a ‘Ganesh Plush Doll’, which they had priced for $18.94.
Outside of the US, the Swiss luxury fashion label Philipp Plein Group had last August launched its high-end ‘Ganesha’ boots, for a whopping $6,010; ‘Ganesha’ shoes with stiletto heels for $1,460; mid heels high ‘Kali’ boots with crystal decorations for $2,590; and another ‘Kali’ boots with heart patterns for $780. The upper of all these shoes was composed of “100% Cow Leather”.
In January, the Hong Kong headquartered e-commerce company CowCow.com had launched various bikini-bottoms named “Grace of Ganesha”, priced from $34.99 to $35.99.
Some other instances of demeaning cultural appropriation was the “Fate/Grand Order” (FGO) mobile role-playing video game, developed by Japan’s Delightworks Inc., last year, which introduced Goddess Parvati as one of the “new” servants, who also was a belly dancer.
However, while this cultural appropriation goes unabated, there is greater awareness and encouragement of Hindu festivals, deities, and culture, in the mainstream society in the US.
The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has an ongoing Ramayana exhibition curated by students, till May 20, of this year. The paintings in this exhibition are reportedly dated between the 17th and 19th centuries, including “The Coronation of Rama” (1840).
Last August, the Horatio Colony Museum in Keene, New Hampshire, celebrated Janmashtami, marking Hindu deity Lord Krishna’s birthday, on August 19. The museum also organized an exhibition on “Hinduism”, containing antique Hindu objects from its collection in addition to borrowed items from Mariposa Museum to give “overview of this rich and ancient spiritual belief”.
And recently, yoga – unarguably the most culturally appropriated ‘item’ from India, saw its presence expand to a high school, with Doull Elementary School, in Denver, Colorado, trading detention with the physical and mind-bending exercise.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)