The Kardashians/Jenners are everyone’s favourite celebrity family to talk about. Whether people look up to them and love them for their entrepreneur-like attitude (i.e. basically becoming rich and successful by making the most of any business opportunity) and trendsetting fashion sense, or whether people despise them because of their in-your-face, in-the-media-constantly presence and the fact that none of them really have any discernible talents (business savvy isn’t a talent, by the way) – nobody seems to be able to stop gushing or bitching about them.
Every member of the family has had their own media storm surrounding them and done a fair few controversial things in their lives under the spotlight and now two of them are both in hot water for the same incident. Kendall + Kylie, as they call themselves as a brand, have come under fire recently for their new bag, which is shaped like a Chinese takeout box. Accusations of racism and cultural appropriation are plaguing them right now – enough that the bag has since been withdrawn from stores. But is it racist or cultural appropriating?
While I don’t believe it to be racist, calling it cultural appropriation is where it gets confusing; the takeout box is actually more of an American thing than a Chinese thing – Chinese takeaways put their food in said boxes for their customers and this isn’t something you see anywhere else, here in the UK or in China. So really, is there cultural appropriation since the takeout box is a fusion of both Chinese and American cultures?
Having done some further reading into the history of the takeout box, it was originally called an “oyster pail” back in the later 1800s and early 1900s to well, hold oysters. It wasn’t until World War II that they were ingeniously used to transport Chinese takeaway food instead and have since become a staple of American Chinese cuisine.
The family have, in the past, been accused of racism or at least of being entitled white people who care little for their consequences or for other races (see Kendall’s controversial Pepsi advert as a prime example), but here, no racism exists. Some may argue that by using the idea/image of a Chinese-American cultural “object” and the fact that it’s called the “Lee Leather Clutch” – Lee being a popular Chinese surname, they are being insensitive to the Chinese community. Others may say that because the family have no racial ties to the Chinese community and are not of Chinese descent, that this is not for them to take and use. This argument however, could be used against other labels and fashion designs; those who put Japanese writing on their tops (see British company Superdry who constantly do this) or copy the Chinese cheongsam or qipao should surely also be accused of the same appropriation, no?
But KK’s bag itself, is in fact, just not very appealing. At $150 for a plain white box-shaped bag with their name on it in the stereotypical “Asian” font, it is overpriced and looks cheap and tacky. It is also an almost carbon copy of a Kate Spade design from 2004, which also caused controversy back then. Later in 2010, fashion powerhouse Chanel also released a similar design in black. Did the girls perhaps know this and went ahead with it anyway, thinking most people wouldn’t remember? Or are they really as naive as many believe they are in general? “Cultural appropriation” happens all too often in the fashion world, but thankfully negative reactions and backlash nearly always result in said products being pulled.
In summary, the Jenner sisters and their family are certainly no stranger to controversy and this is not the first time they’ve been subject to backlash for their fashion line (they were also berated for using the images of rappers on t-shirts without permission in what was seen as an appropriation of hip hop culture). While they may seem to have learnt something from this lesson since the bag is already no longer available, the Chinese community (or Chinese American community at least) are unlikely to get an apology – and I can therefore understand where hate for them comes from – for their insensitive ideas and actions, but unfortunately we’re also unlikely to see a change in their headline grabbing and bizarre styles and products in the future either.