Raw Mango’s new clothes collection criticised for appropriating LTTE uniform

The fashion brand’s new collection has drawn flak from Eelam Tamils for the tiger-print, militaristic look of some of the pieces, which resemble the uniform worn by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Controversial Raw Mango Sher Bagh Collection
Controversial Raw Mango Sher Bagh Collection

Controversy erupted after a high fashion brand, Raw Mango, recently posted photos of their Winter-Fall 2021 Collection called ‘Sher Bagh’, featuring models in tiger-striped, militaristic outfits. Many from the Eelam Tamil community pointed out the outfits resemble the uniforms worn by the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) — the armed guerrilla organisation that fought against the Sinhala-led government’s defence forces during the Sri Lankan Civil War. The brand has been accused of theft and appropriation. 

Raw Mango posted the photos four to five days ago. Researcher Sinthujan Varatharajan, known popularly by their Instagram handle @varathas, called the collection a “commodifying of the resistance aesthetics of living people.” Others, in the (now deleted) comments section of Raw Mango’s posts on Instagram, said the “photographs rip off of Eala Thamizh women’s guerrilla uniforms in the name of fashion, monetising from it without giving any due credits or even mentioning the history.”

Raw Mango describes the collection on its website as: “A collaboration between Raw Mango and Anjali Singh of Sujan, Sher Bagh is a result of ongoing wildlife conservations and woven textile explorations advocating for the conservation and co-existence between mankind and nature.” The website adds: “Proceeds from all purchases of this collection will be directly donated to SUJÁN’s conservation projects in the region of Jawai thus directly contributing to restoring, preserving and expanding precious wilderness habitats.” The photos are shot in open, rocky scrublands. The description in the photos also mention safari jackets, wildlife like rhinos, Asiatic Lions, Marsh Crocodiles and others. Most of the outfits are made from silk or brocade.

However, critics say the resemblance to LTTE uniforms is no coincidence. “The clothes are so evidently militaristic. And how often are army camouflages in tiger stripes?” says Sinthujan, when asked if the contested designs can be construed as a generic camouflage attire and common tiger print clothing motifs “There are many variations even among camouflage patterns, but the tiger stripes over a military look are so obviously an aesthetic of the LTTE.” Those familiar with the LTTE uniform would recognise the design and pattern at once, they say. 

“If this was a brand from elsewhere in the world, I would have wondered ‘what are the odds they came across an LTTE uniform while looking for references?’ But given that this is a brand from India, and the country’s presence in Sri Lanka through the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) during the Civil War, how much of a leap is it to conclude that the reference point or so-called ‘inspiration’ are the women fighters who were in the LTTE?” Sinthujan asks. 

Abinaya Nathan, activist and editor at The Tamil Guardian says, “Even if someone wants to go with the tiger-stripes-are-a-common-motif-in-clothes excuse, tigers aren’t green and gold. The olive green is very plainly a military reference.”

“We have to remember that the LTTE uniforms were unisex and mass produced. They were designed for war,” Sinthujan notes. “They wouldn’t have been precisely tailored for a single-person’s fit. Look at the head gear in the Raw Mango outfit. Apart from the similarity to the cap worn by LTTE fighters, they’re oversized. You can catch hints of the original’s mass-produced quality, in the sense the LTTE caps were not designed for any particular head, but here, the deliberate largeness is absorbed into the aesthetic language of high-fashion.”

Sinthujan points out that uni-sex uniforms worn by female fighters were designed for the necessities of the battle field. “Take this [the Raw Mango design] or H&M’s appropriation of the female Kurdish fighters’ outfits or that of the Palestinian Keffiyeh by the Israeli brand Dodo Bar Or’, they show a certain commodification of war, of violence,” they say. 

“For people who come from a history of violence and displacement, the appropriation rankles. It banalises that suffering, makes it mundane,” they added. “For those uniforms to exist, the circumstances were that a people decided to fight for something in order to survive. To take that away is ruthless and shameful.”

The Kashmir controversy

This is the second time Raw Mango has faced criticism for designs that reference groups who have faced violence from the state. Earlier in 2019, within months of the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in Kashmir, throwing the valley into extended lockdown and a communications blackout, Raw Mango posted pictures of their ‘Zooni’ collection. This collection is described by the brand as: “Kashmir’s tree of life remains resplendent… an abundance of history, beauty and warmth…” The collection drew widespread criticism for seemingly attempting to profit off the miseries of Kashmiri people.

The brand has come under additional criticism for deleting critical comments on the Instagram posts. TNM has screenshots of some of these comments that can no longer be found. The in-app feature of limiting comments has also been turned on by the account. Further, multiple Instagram users attempting to engage with the issue through their Instagram stories have said that the brand’s account has blocked them.  

TNM reached out to Raw Mango for comments. This article will be updated if/when we receive a response.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute