SERENA GONZALEZ WRITES – To celebrate the Year of the Tiger, Italian high-end luxury brand and fashion powerhouse Gucci has come under fire for using live tigers in its latest advertising campaign – a move that has shocked animal welfare organizations, conservationists, and consumers alike.
The campaign, branded #GucciTiger, portrays live tigers sitting and walking around a luxury residence alongside models wearing Gucci attire. The company responded to the initial outcry by stating that the animals weren’t harmed during the photoshoot-a comment that merely highlights their grave misunderstanding of the consequences of their actions.
Tigers are an endangered species that should be respected and protected. More tigers live in captivity than, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the wild; “The tiger is classified as Endangered in the Red List of Threatened Species and it is estimated that there are only 3,900 tigers remaining in the wild worldwide.” And so, portraying tigers as pets and luxury items when they belong in their natural habitats is seen by many as a cruel act.
Whether bred in captivity or taken from the wild, the stress these tigers undergo when forced to pose for photos is immense. There’s no humane way to do it. A lot of control and manipulation goes on: For example, how they are dragged through the transportation process and put in cages while they’re waiting to be used.
In response to Gucci’s campaign, Animals Asia – a Hong Kong-based charity that seeks to end cruelty to animals on the continent – and 49 other animal welfare organizations- came together to write an open letter to Gucci to explain how their use of endangered animals is contributing to their decline. Also contributing to the tigers’ decline: their use as tourism selfie-props; their use in traditional medicine – tiger bones are used to treat ulcers, typhoid, malaria, dysentery, burns and even rheumatism, and other parts, like whiskers, are worn as talismans or protective charms, even to sooth toothaches.
What could Gucci have done differently in its ad campaign? Prada, for example, is combining its “Action in the Year of the Tiger” campaign with an art project in the hopes of safeguarding the animal. The project invites creative talents who are age 30 or under, in art schools in China and internationally, to submit original visual, artistic interpretations of the tiger to the company. The luxury fashion house will also be making a donation to the China Green Foundation’s “Walking With Tiger and Leopard” program in order to drum up awareness of wildlife and the need to preserve biodiversity in China.
Meanwhile, Dior has worked with American artist Kenny Scharf to create The Water Tiger motif, which will be transformed into prints, embroidery, and patches on shirts, knitwear, denim pants and down jackets in the colors of red, white, and blue.
Above all, Animals Asia believes the fashion industry can play a positive role in ending the exploitation of wild animals. Brands that wish to show images of real tigers in their campaigns should show them in the wild, they say, where they belong, not in direct interaction with humans. So, to truly celebrate and respect this majestic and highly endangered animal as we enter the Year of The Tiger, let’s leave them where they rightfully belong – in the wild.
The Year of the Tiger should raise awareness that these animals need respect and protection, not commodification.