It takes hundreds of employees, thousands of hours and millions of dollars to launch a mass market lingerie line. And one blogger to take it all down.
"I never thought they would pull the Geisha outfit," Nina Jacinto tells Shine. "I imagine there were a number of factors that went into that decision."
Two weeks ago, Jacinto, a 26 year old bay area blogger and non-profit development manager, most likely became one of those factors.
It all started here. "I saw a link to [Victoria's Secret's Go East] line on the blog, Angry Asian Man," she says.
"H ooray for exotic orientalist bull----," wrote the blogger who included a link to the "Asian-inspired" lingerie line's centerpiece: "The sexy little Geisha," a mesh teddy that comes with an obi belt, chopsticks and a fan.
Immediately Jacinto sat down to write a smart, insightful post on why she found the outfit, and the line in general, offensive. "It's the kind of overt racism masked behind claims of inspired fashion and exploring sexual fantasy that makes my skin crawl," she writes in article published September 6 on the blog Racialicious, a site for commentary on the intersection of culture and race.
"There's a long-standing trend to represent Asian women as hypersexualized objects of fantasy, " writes Jacinto. She also takes umbrage with the lingerie description as "your ticket to an exotic adventure" and the fact that none of the models for the collection are of Asian descent.
"The lack of Asian women here simply exposes the deep-rooted nature of the Orientalist narrative, one that trades real humanness for access to culture," she writes. "Besides, it can only feel sexy and exotic if it's on an "American" body-without the feeling of accessing something foreign or forbidden, there can be no fantasy."
One week after Jacinto posted her piece, the feminist website Bust picked up on the story.When the Bust reporter went to check out the teddy described in Jacinto's story, it had disappeared from the site. According to Bust, a Victoria's Secret rep suggested the teddy had simply "sold out." A week after that, the Frisky's Jessica Wakemen, wrote about the offending and mysteriously missing teddy in question. "Considering the complicated history of geishas, repurposing the "look" for a major corporation to sell as role-playing lingerie seems a bit tasteless," she wrote.
That same day, major news outlets like the Huffington Post began calling blogger backlash for Go East line a "controversy." The Daily Mail noted that the teddy and the Go East line in it's entirety had been removed from the company website and replaced with the main product page.
The company still hasn't released a statement or confirmed their decision to remove the line.
Maybe they're waiting for the backlash to blow over. Over on Twitter, the audience is divided on the issue of whether the Geisha teddy is offensive. "Can we please stop fetishizing Asian cultures?" asks one Twitter user. "I'd still wear it," adds another. On their Facebook page, a VS superfan asks when the line is coming to Australia. Don't expect it anytime soon.
Companies have their ear to the blogosphere and after hard-learned lessons they're realizing they're not immune to the power of a strong, and well-crafted opinion. In June, Adidas pulled it's plans to create a line of shackle sneakers after over 2000 commenters took to the company's Facebook page complaining of the racist tinges in the label's design. And last year, American Apparel's plus-size modeling contest was taken to task by a contestant who taught the marketing company a thing or two about women with curves.
Jacinto, meanwhile, has gotten a lot of responses from commenters questioning why she cares so much about some bras and underwear. "It's important that companies like VS know that capitalizing on a stereotype and on a culture is tasteless and offensive," she explains. "The messaging we insert in our culture shapes people's attitudes - so questioning clothing like this is important."
Questioning is one thing, seeing results in another. Whether or not VS confirms it, Jacinto's impact on a massive multi-million dollar line is obvious. But she's still sees room for improvement. "Their Cherry Blossoms line [another Asian-influenced VS line mentioned in her blog] still exists and still contains language such as "indulge in touches of eastern delight," she says. "The clothing itself may not be as overtly distasteful as the Geisha piece, but the language makes it troublesome to me. Surely there must be another way to advertise that line that doesn't exoticize Asian women."