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Celebrity tequila brands - why is Kendall Jenner getting all the 'cultural appropriation' flack?

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Celebrity tequila brands - why is Kendall Jenner getting all the 'cultural appropriation' flack? Empty Celebrity tequila brands - why is Kendall Jenner getting all the 'cultural appropriation' flack?

Post by Admin Sat 20 Feb 2021, 11:50

I know that George has sold his tequila brand but with all the brouhaha out there regarding Kendall Jenner's supposed cultural appropriation, there are many people asking why is it only her being singled out for criticism?  Fair point, I think:

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Kendall Jenner’s Tequila Brand Actually Is Problematic

Celebrity brands are pillaging Mexico's agave to make subpar products — she's just the most visible one.
By Sam Reed 
Feb 19, 2021

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On Tuesday, Kendall Jenner announced her latest venture: 818 Tequila, a small-batch brand Jenner claims is the end result of a 3.5 year "journey to create the best-tasting tequila."

Almost immediately, the news was met with outrage. In her announcement videos posted to Instagram, Jenner sips tequila on ice from a highball glass, to the chagrin of tequila aficionados worldwide — but that's not the worst of it. 

A Diet Prada post about the launch called attention to concerns Mexican and Latinx people have about Jenner's product, including charges of cultural appropriation, and fears that workers who harvest agave and make the tequila might be exploited. There is also some concern that a celebrity tequila trend is causing real harm to the agave-producing region of Mexico.

In the comments of Diet Prada's post, though, some people wondered about whether the outrage was just another case of Kardashian-Jenner haters looking for a reason to criticize the family. Many made the point that Kendall is hardly the first celebrity to dip a toe into the spirits industry, asking different versions of, "What about George Clooney? Nick Jonas? Dwayne the Rock Johnson?" 

"I understand the point of the discussion around appropriation," reads one comment, "but if we're going to have it, let's make sure it's appropriately inclusive of all the wrong-doers." 

For those of us who deeply appreciate tequila without quite understanding the process of making it, I spoke to Patron's Antonio Rodriguez, the Mexico-based director of production, and Lucas Assis, an L.A.-based tequila expert and bartender. Each helped to break down why the celebrity tequila craze is problematic for the industry, and how Kendall Jenner's 818, specifically, became the brand to release the floodgates of outrage. 

Misspelled Spanish Probably Means It’s Cultural Appropriation

The allegations of appropriation boil down to tequila's main ingredient, agave, and that its importance extends well beyond booze in Mexican culture. "People outside of Mexico don't know how embedded tequila and the agave is in their culture," says Assis, referencing the centuries-old uses of agave in food and drinks dating back to the ancient Mayans. "And when you come from the outside with only the intention to make money off of this thing that's so important — without any regard or any real knowledge or any respect to that culture — it's cultural appropriation."

While we can't know Jenner's intentions, a lack of knowledge is visible not just in her cringe-inducing sip of tequila on the rocks (a no-no, according to many tequila experts), or her extremely vague commentary while doing the tasting ("strong" is not a "real tasting note in a tequila," says Assis). It's also right there in the branding. 

"It's not 'blanco tequila,'" adds Assis, referring to the 818 bottle labels, "it's 'tequila blanco.' She just misspelled the Spanish … they all say 'reposado tequila,' 'añejo tequila.' Tequila is the first word, and then it's blanco." This is simple Spanish grammar you'll see on everything from Jose Cuervo to Espolón bottles you might have on your bar at this very moment. 

"[That] screamed to us tequila people that she didn't really know what she was talking about," he notes. 
This is not to say that all tequila-makers must be Mexican; Assis notes it's possible to gain that understanding and respect of culture as an outsider, too, and the brands that do it best showcase the people actually making the product. 

"For example, Del Maguey Mezcal — it's owned by Ron Cooper. He's an artist here from L.A., but he's been going to Oaxaca for ages. He was probably one of the first people to actually bring Mezcal to the U.S." Rather than use his name to market the brand, "it's absolutely all focused on the people that make the Mezcal, the single villages that make the Mezcal, what kind of Mezcal it is," says Assis. "So what he's giving these people, it's just a platform to showcase things that they have been making with their family for three, four generations. There is a way to be involved with the business and not exploit the culture, and actually showcase the culture." 

The Celebrity Tequila Boom

"In 2020, the tequila category grew 65%, which outpaced the growth of the overall spirits category," notes Rodriguez, referencing Nielsen data on the subject. Much of the growth in sales was attributed to the pandemic and the experimentations of at-home amateur mixologists. In 2020, the Rock launched his hugely popular brand, Teremana, but Rodriquez says "the celebrity tequila craze has been at an all-time high" going on four years now.
What's important to note, he says, is that many of them do not have their own production facilities — and when a celebrity spirit is essentially being mass produced with other brands, it is easily traceable. 

Every bottle of tequila has a "NOM," a four-digit number assigned by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT) that tells you where it's made, and exactly what other tequilas are made there. Both Teremana (Dwayne Johnson's brand, NOM 1613) and Patron (NOM 1492), for example, show that they are the only brand made at their distilleries. Jenner's 818 (NOM 1137) is produced at a distillery responsible for more than 60 other brands.

Assis names 1137 as one of two distilleries responsible for most celebrity tequila. "Basically they just make barrels and barrels and barrels of tequila, and celebrities come in and literally pick a barrel. So there might be a little bit of a difference [between brands], like this one is aged in French oak and this one is aged in American oak ... But essentially it's exactly the same bottle, and the celebrity just buys that, and then they just use their marketing and their branding to sell it to you." Obviously with a markup that makes it seem like a very unique and special Mexican product. But, Rodriquez adds, "What you're paying for is the celebrity affiliation, and not the quality of tequila." 

When all is said and done, it's Kendall who will be taking home the profit. While we have no idea how much the workers at the distillery that produces 818 are paid, overall, salaries are low relative to the cost of agave itself, which "has skyrocketed over 1,000% in the last 20 years," says Assis. "The salary for the jimadores, which are the people that are in the field every day, cutting themselves while trying to cut the leaf of the agaves to get to the piñas where the sugars are — their salary hasn't gone up." 

And Yep, Now There's an Agave Shortage

While it's impossible to say for sure that the surge in celebrity tequila has caused the shortage of agave, it certainly has not helped, either. "The increased popularity of tequila in recent years has put intense pressure on tequila makers to produce more tequila, faster," says Rodriguez. Agave that should be harvested at eight to nine years old is now being picked at only three to four years, he explains. "Which means there's just not going to be enough sugar." Both experts say these shortcuts are corrected later with additives, making less pure, lower-quality tequila.  

Of course, with increased demand comes increased prices — meaning that some of the smaller distilleries who can't afford the skyrocketing cost of agave are the ones to suffer. "It's hard for them to even keep up [and] be able to use the material," says Assis. In a 2018 Reuters report, Salvador Rosales, manager of smaller producer Tequila Cascahuin, worried that the soaring price of agave would see customers turning to cheaper alternatives, like vodka and whisky. "If we continue like this, a lot of companies will disappear," he said. In the same report, one agave producer said that plants were being stolen in the middle of the night.

"I do think that celebrity tequila makes a huge part of [the agave shortage] because of the demand associated with them," says Assis. "Like Teremana, for example, they broke all the records of sales for last year … That's where most of the agave is going. So, yeah, there's definitely a correlation between how tequila is just exploding now and the shortage of agave." 

This is a problem that can't necessarily be solved by just growing more agave. Rodriquez clarifies that in order for tequila to be legit, it must be made with Weber Blue agave, and grown in one of four states in Mexico in areas registered by the CRT.

Why are we coming for Kendall Jenner? 

The Kardashian-Jenner clan's history of cultural appropriation (from Kim Kardashian's attempt to name her brand of compression garments "Kimono" to the many, many, many times the family has been accused of appropriating Black culture) made Kendall's attempt to infiltrate the tequila market a bit cringe-inducing in and of itself. But it really comes down to exposure. Within minutes of her post, I had heard about Kendall's tequila brand.

Two years after the fact, I had no idea that Nick Jonas also had a tequila brand. (Sorry, Nick.) It's not so much that people were holding Kendall accountable and not others, it's that she's the most visible face of the issue. The scrutiny should have been there all along.

With 152 million Instagram followers, Kendall's reach is unparalleled (that's not including her family's individual accounts, which will likely support 818 and increase her reach even further). In a market already facing a crisis, the thinking goes, this onslaught of demand will only serve to make Kendall richer, while gutting the industry, and specifically Mexican, family-owned small scale facilities, in the process. Even if she began her "journey" almost four years ago, she wouldn't have been blind to the current climate of the industry. 

"I do think that by now these celebrities should know that it's not right," adds Assis, comparing the response to Casamigos, founded by George Clooney and Rande Gerber in 2013, and 818. (Clooney and Gerber sold Casamigos in 2017 for $1 billion.) "You're destroying a whole industry that is absolutely embedded in the culture of Mexico," he adds. "Forcing a shortage on [the agave] plant because you're just trying to make more money — it's going to leave a sour taste in people's mouth."

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Post by Admin Sat 20 Feb 2021, 11:56

I wonder if Casamigos will issue a statement?  I'd guess not. 

Interesting about how celebrities essentially just pick a barrel from a distillery and market that.  If I remember rightly, Casamigos went into more detail, didn't they?  I also wonder about where they're getting their agave from, if there's a shortage and it's meant to be harvested when it's 8 years old?

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Post by LizzyNY Sat 20 Feb 2021, 15:12

I think George and Rande were much more involved in the making of Casamigos. They were creating a tequila to share with their friends and didn't intend to make a business out of it until they were ordering so much of it that bottling it for sale only made sense.

I wonder if the company is still using the same agave sources and distilleries since they sold it. I think George would try to have them operate ethically and do as little damage as possible to the industry.
Casamigos with Mr Clooney

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Celebrity tequila brands - why is Kendall Jenner getting all the 'cultural appropriation' flack? Empty 3 years after George Clooney sold his tequila brand for a billion dollars, people are calling out Kendall Jenner for launching her own tequila company

Post by annemarie Mon 22 Feb 2021, 22:38

[size=35]3 years after George Clooney sold his tequila brand for a billion dollars, people are calling out Kendall Jenner for launching her own tequila company[/size]

Rachel Askinasi 
Feb 20, 2021, 1:04 AM

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Kendall Jenner announced her tequila company, 818, on Tuesday. Venturelli/WireImage

  • Kendall Jenner is being accused of cultural appropriation for her new tequila brand. 

  • A tequila expert and professor weighed in on why people may be criticizing Jenner.

  • She notes that other celebrities with tequila brands, like George Clooney, weren't criticized the same way.

Almost immediately after posting a fun-filled Instagram announcement revealing her new tequila brand, 818, Kendall Jenner started taking some heat.
While many friends, fans, and family members praised the model and reality star's new business venture, which she kept a secret for nearly four years, many critics on social media say Jenner has no right to get into the tequila-making industry because she is not Mexican. 

The critical comments range from people asking Jenner to give credit to the distillery in Jalisco where her tequila was made and to the workers involved in making the drink to accusations of cultural appropriation.
The question of whether any non-Mexican person making tequila should be considered cultural appropriation is not for us, or any one person, to decide.
But seeking some further insight on the issue, we spoke to Marie Sarita Gaytán, the associate professor of sociology and gender studies and author of "¡Tequila!: Distilling the Spirit of Mexico," who shared her thoughts on the criticism — and in particular, why the outrage over Jenner's venture is so prominent when she's just the latest in a long line of non-Mexican celebrities to make their own tequila. 

[size=32]Jenner is far from the first non-Mexican celebrity to launch a tequila label[/size]

In what was by far the most prominent and financially successful celebrity tequila venture to date, George Clooney and Rande Gerber made their brand Casamigos a household name in 2013, eventually selling it to Diageo for $1 billion in 2017. Many other celebrity-backed tequila launches followed.
Michael Jordan and a team of four others set out to create a tequila that fit their palates in 2019. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Nick Jonas, Rita Ora, rapper E-40, Adam Levine and Sammy Hagar, AC/DC, Justin Timberlake, and Sean "Diddy" Combs are also among the celebs who have put their names and faces behind the Mexican-made spirit.
While it's clear the supermodel and reality TV star did not start the tequila-making trend among her famous peers, it's also obvious that she's being criticized more — or at least more visibly — than the rest of them have. 

[size=32]Gaytán thinks the inconsistency of the backlash is important to consider and points to Jenner's gender[/size]

Gaytán, a tequila expert, says that the issue isn't straightforward, and the debate doesn't have one clear answer.
"As my colleague Paisley Rekdal, the author of 'Appropriate: A Provocation,' reminds us, these debates are too often framed in terms of right or wrong, good or bad," the professor and author told Insider via email. "There is always more to them. These issues are thorny."
Gaytán also agreed that, in her recollection, tequila brands launched by other non-Mexican celebrities prior to Jenner's did not elicit the same response. "When people express outrage over Kendall Jenner's tequila, I wonder why there hasn't been the same reaction to the launch of brands by Justin Timberlake, Nick Jonas, or Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson?" she said.
Gaytán suggested that some critics will use the idea of Jenner being "in it for the money" as grounds for attacking her business. But she says that reasoning "just doesn't cut it [because] they are all in it for the money."
She also pointed out that "there was hardly any mention of cultural appropriation" surrounding Clooney and Gerber's massive Casamigos sale, and suggests that Jenner's gender may have something to do with the backlash. 
Jenner joins Rita Ora (who is a partner to a Mexican distiller rather than a brand-owner) and Bethenny Frankel (who started her SkinnyGirl cocktail brand with a margarita) as one of few women in the celebrity-tequila space. Of the three women and their ventures, Jenner and her prominent leadership position in 818 are arguably the most visible. 
"When women step 'out of bounds,' whether it's in politics, business, or in this case, culture and entrepreneurship, it touches a nerve," Gaytán said. "That, for me, is a far more interesting story."


[size=32]Gaytán explained why she thinks Mexicans and Mexican Americans are having a strong reaction to 818 at this particular moment[/size]

Timing is also a factor, with many possibly seeing Jenner's tequila launch as the last straw in repeated instances of cultural appropriation — both by Jenner and her family specifically, and by wealthy and powerful individuals generally.
"In the case of tequila (and similar national-origin products), accusations of cultural appropriation seem to happen when a celebrity from a different cultural background (i.e., not Mexican) acquires or founds their own brand," Gaytán said. 
"To some degree, everyone engages in cultural appropriation," she added. "Everyone. This does not mean that the effects of everyone's appropriation of a cultural product is the same — power, access, representation, all of these dimensions are at play."
She told Insider that one root of the issue causing the outrage is that Mexican goods and culture (like tequila) seem to hold more value in the US than Mexican people do.
"For Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living in the United States, it certainly stings to see yet another non-Mexican capitalizing on their culture," Gaytán said. "Why might it sting? Well, for one, even as I write, real Mexicans — mothers, fathers, children — are in cages, put there by the US government. That could not happen in a country that respected Mexicans as humans."

[size=32]Does Jenner's audience care more about calling out issues of cultural appropriation than Jordan's or Clooney's audiences? Maybe[/size]

While timing and gender may be factors here, I would argue that audience is another that could be just as powerful. 
Consider how different Clooney and Gerber's audience is from Jenner's. When the two men came out with Casamigos in 2013, their celebrity friends could be seen touting the drink. The price point made it perfect for any adult with disposable income to purchase a tequila that connected them with the suave coolness of Clooney without breaking the bank.
Jenner's fanbase of Gen Zers and millennials may be more attuned to issues of cultural appropriation. They weren't (and still aren't) exactly the target market for other tequila brands like Casamigos.
But Jenner's entire brand as a millennial herself is built on that demographic. Her audience is largely (though not exclusively) made up of those millennials and Gen Zers who are deeply involved with and active on social media and who care deeply about issues involving racial equity — and who aren't shy about calling out instances of cultural appropriation when they see them.

[size=32]Ultimately, it's not unusual for moves made by Kardashian-Jenner family members to be put under a microscope[/size]

Kendall isn't the first in her blended, extremely famous family to be criticized for a business decision or face accusations of cultural appropriation. 
Kim Kardashian West's Skims shapewear was originally called Kimono until she was called out for appropriating the name of the traditional Japanese garment and changed it.
Kylie Jenner took heat for performing in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP" music video, with many critics calling the cameo "unnecessary" in a video that otherwise celebrated "Black female excellence."
And multiple members of the family, including Kylie, Khloe, and Kendall herself, have been called out for appropriating traditionally Black hairstyles. Kim was even accused of blackface on her Paper magazine cover, which critics said drew inspiration from racist imagery.
In the end, Jenner launching a tequila brand may be problematic, but it's no more so than Casamigos or any of the other celebrity tequila launches that came before it. And it's important to consider why people are only calling this out as cultural appropriation now. 
Representatives for Jenner declined to comment when reached by Insider.

Over the Clooney moon

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Post by Admin Wed 24 Feb 2021, 21:19

Thanks, Annemarie, just moving your post to this thread.

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