Imagine an open field on a sunny day. Everyone is wearing a white shirt and faded pants, and you see bag of colored powder in their hands. There’s a water hose and buckets ready to the side, and every single person has a smile on their face. Welcome to Holi, the festival of colors.
You can also call it the Hindu festival appropriated by Adidas in its commercial to sell the “Hu Holi” clothing line. As Indians, Hindus and other minorities, we don’t approve of the European company using our culture to make money for itself. Here are just 24 of the countless reasons why Adidas’ Holi commercial is cultural appropriation in its finest form.
1. You’re not appreciating the holiday. You’re using it to make money.
You’ve essentially used a Hindu holiday for the sake of Western capitalizing and profit in the fashion industry — mercantile greed. Adidas really doesn't care about Holi. They only care about making money off of it.
2. Pharrell isn’t Hindu, so why is he representing a Hindu holiday?
The face of the advertisement is someone who isn’t even Indian, taking away from the company’s attempt at appreciating Hindu culture. At least find someone who matches the culture you’re describing.
3. When Adidas assumed Pharrell could represent Hindu culture as a POC, they took opportunities from Indian artists.
By commissioning an American man who knows nothing about Hindu religion and practices and didn’t bother to thoroughly research, Adidas grossly overlooked Indian and Hindu designers, artists and models that could have represented the festival accurately. It would have been more appropriate for Pharrell to simply seem more interested in the details that others were explaining to him.
Hindus should represent their own religion, instead of letting someone else take one look at the holiday, decide that it might be fun and assume that Holi is only about the colors.
Just because Pharrell Williams is a man of color does not mean he has ultimate knowledge and jurisdiction to represent other minority groups’ cultures as well.
4. The clothing line is way too expensive for what is being sold.
Starting from $40, it goes all the way to $300 for a hoodie and a pair of shoes. Really?
5. The point of Holi is to wear old clothes and have fun getting them colored.
You’re defeating the entire purpose of this part of the Holi celebration. This means you don’t know what the tradition fully is.
6. The fashion line is tye-dye, which isn’t anything like Holi patterns.
Don’t use a Hindu tradition as an excuse to reach out to a further target audience. You know the patterns don’t accurately reflect what the clothes look like once the festival is over.
7. The collection overlooked every single other aspect of Holi besides the colors.
The company did not include any other representation of Holi in the design. Holi is not simply a festival where people randomly throw colored powder at each other. It is commenced by prayer and has many other aspects, such as rose water guns, the burning of Holika, the music, the dancing and the special foods Hindus eat during the holiday.
There are many ways to implement these different traditions without randomly dying a hoodie and passing it off as a “Holi design,” making this meaningful holiday seem like a one-dimensional excuse to get your clothes dirty.
8. There seems to be a lack of effort within the designs.
One of the shoes in the collection is very minimal — $250 for a pair of plain white shoes. Is this seriously what Indian culture is being “appreciated” for?
9. The collection disregarded the most symbolically important color used in Holi.
They did not use red or pink tones in the multicolored designs, even though those hues are the most significant in the Hindu holiday of Holi. Red and pinkish colors symbolize the burning of evil and impurity from one’s heart and desires. If they wanted to represent the colors of the festival appropriately, they should have at least included the correct tones used in Holi in all of the articles of clothing. Instead they used dull, faded neon colors that don’t represent the ones actually used to play Holi.
10. Touching something using one's feet is considered disrespectful.
And because Holi is such a sacred festival, the fact that they made a line of shoes dedicated to this is extremely disrespectful to the religion. Adidas did not take time to understand the values of Hinduism before creating the ad because the company is known mainly as a shoe brand, and feet are considered the least sacred part of the body. This means placing patterns depicting a religious festival on the feet is degrading.
Although this was meant to be appreciation, the lack of knowledge on Adidas’ part symbolizes appropriation for pure commercial benefit, nothing else.
11. Holi is meant to mark getting rid of worries, symbolized by starting off with a clean shirt.
At the beginning of the powder part of the festival, the white shirt symbolizes a blank canva, and as the color goes on the canvas, the worries decrease. The addition of color is throwing away those fears, and Adidas takes away from that by simply selling the patterned shirts at the end.
12. Adidas and Pharrell took aspects of the Hindu religion and Indian culture and made it seem as if it belonged to them.
They took a European company and an American singer to market something that belongs to India and Hinduism. Hindus like to work for what they want, and they don’t appreciate others taking away what is rightfully theirs just to make money.
13. It is as if Pharrell learned the spiritual concepts behind this holiday but simply forgot them.
Even though he wanted to make a change, the way he presented this was not in any way justified. It is as if he felt that a dominant culture needed to swoop in and steal a key element of a minority.
14. This isn't the first time Pharrell has culturally appropriated before...
He was once seen wearing a red-face, Native American headdress for fashion. This backlash for the Adidas commercial is more than a simple accident because he should have understood the consequences of his actions just from experience.
15. You can see that people don’t care about the cultural “significance” behind the shoes.
Looking on YouTube and other sites, users who do reviews only buy them for the design, meaning Adidas knew the design was appealing to others more than the true meaning.
16. Adidas does not know anything about the religious significance of Holi when “appreciating” it.
The website says to “celebrate the multicolored hues of humanity” with no allusions to the meaning of Holi. There is a rich history in Hinduism of the story of Prahlad and Holika — the symbolism of the fight of a good heart against greed and other forms of evil — that was not represented at all. Additionally, the Hindu god Krishna originally started the holiday by painting his lover Radha’s face blue to match his own skin (also blue in color). None of this backstory was used to fully represent Holi and its religious significance in order to display a religious holiday.
If Adidas just wanted a nice design without possibly offending anybody, they could have picked another holiday without such heavy religious significance or not even associated the line with Holi in the first place.
17. The creators assumed that Holi was a holiday like Christmas, something open for everyone to celebrate.
However, its religious connotation is too large to ignore because first and foremost, it is a Hindu holiday celebrating parts of the religion that are not understood by everyone in the world. The festival is specific to Hindus in that every single aspect, including the colors, is symbolic of our lives and what we believe in.
18. The Hu Holi collection used powder dye in order to get the colors on the shoes and clothes.
But Hindus use powder during the festival for a reason. Powder dye is completely different and means nothing to us.
19. Pharrell doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself in the videos.
There easily could have been a representative who was more appreciative and more willing to learn about the culture.
20. Nowadays, religions and cultures are looked down upon in the U.S.
But all of the sudden, it's okay to use them to make "fashionable" clothing lines.
21. Cultural appropriation is more common now than ever.
And there needs to be more education focused around distinguishing the difference between celebrating a culture and taking advantage of it for personal or financial gain.
Adidas, now that Indians have gotten our point across, it's time for you to apologize and either take down the line or rename it. That's all we're asking for.