MAC and Rodarte Collection and the Women of Ciudad Juarez

Juarez murders pink crosses
Juarez murders

A wave of controversy has washed through the beauty blogosphere this weekend. I was alerted to it via the weird and wonderful world of twitter, which is fast becoming my first port of call for news, both gossip, beauty and fashion related, and increasingly, political. The recent upset chatter is in reaction to the Fall 2010 fashion collection by Rodarte and an upcoming collaborative beauty collection by MAC and Rodarte, based on the Mexican border city, Ciudad Juarez.

The Rodarte collection was inspired by a roadtrip taken by designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy from El Paso, Texas to Marfa through the bordertown landscape. The Rodarte collection avoided much controversy when it was shown (perhaps the connotation with Juarez was not obvious to many), and was praised for its beautiful romantic and ethereal pieces. However now that MAC is getting involved, set to release a makeup range in September with nail polishes named with explicit reference to the region, such as ‘Juarez’ and ‘Factory’, people are upset. Very upset.

For those of you that don’t know much about the Mexican border cities, and Juarez in particular, I can hardly blame you. There is so little reported on it in this country and it’s grossly under-reported on even in the US, its very close neighbour. I, by chance, happened to write my university dissertation on the US-Mexico border region, focusing on the exploitation of women (mostly young women), both economically – through gruelling sweatshops known as maquiladoras – and physically, through sexual assault, rape, murder, and brutal mutilation of their bodies. I may never have known about this myself had it not been for the year abroad during my degree which I spent at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There I enrolled in Chicano Studies courses led by Sylvanna Falcón, author of ‘Rape as a Weapon of War: Advancing Human Rights for Women at the U.S.-Mexico Border’ and other articles on the subjugation of Mexican women. That’s where I first heard about Juarez, the maquiladoras, and the rapes and murders known as ‘femicide’ (violence against women). I was truly shocked and moved, and determined from that moment to write my dissertation on it. So this issue is very close to my heart. It gives me a lump in my throat just to talk about it, having spent six months immersing myself in books, articles, videos and real-life testimonials, and pouring all my energy into trying to understand the horrific events that have been taking place there.

Desert Cross -
Desert Cross -

When I wrote my dissertation in 2008 there were over 500 reported cases of murdered women from the Juarez area, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, although it was estimated there were hundreds, even thousands more. Most of these women had been raped, many mutilated, and their bodies often found abandoned, naked, in the desert. Most of them were young maquiladora factory workers, attacked on their commute in the dark to work long, physically demanding (and often dangerous) hours in predominantly US owned factories, for peanuts of a wage. Today I’ve heard a much higher number of 5000 deaths being reported; whatever the exact figure the situation is clearly an epidemic. And one which has been happening since 1993 –that’s nearly 20 years.

You may be starting to see why basing a fashion and/or beauty collection on Ciudad Juarez is in poor taste.

Aside from the obviously horrific things which are happening to women in Juarez, what is almost equally as disturbing is that no one has been brought to justice. These brutal killings and rapes have been happening for nearly two decades but such an intricate and powerful system of corruption exists, which, in many scholars’ opinions, involves a number of players including drug barons, maquilardora factory owners (many of whom are Americans), the police, the Mexican government, the US border patrol, perhaps even the US government, either directly or indirectly.

“Investigations by the United Nations, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, members of the U.S. Congress and other groups have repeatedly shown that local police have mishandled or fabricated evidence and failed to follow logical leads.” (Sullivan, In Mexico, a Question of Guilt by Protestation.)

No one knows who’s responsible for these murders. It may be just a handful of sick individuals who actually commit the crimes, but they are being protected by a wall of silence that exists around the murders, protected by the powers that be. And that in itself is a crime.  The silence has been broken only sporadically due to the incredible hard work of grass roots campaigners in Mexico and the US who’ve put their lives at risk to raise awareness of the plight of women in Juarez. And yet, justice still has not been done. To my knowledge (and at least as was the case in 2008), no one has been found guilty; a few men had been made scapegoats, but with little evidence, and the murders have continued. They continue today.

Juarez protest
Juarez protest

Why the silence? Well, scholars believe that those in power, both economic and political, are profiting from this in some way – either directly or indirectly by protecting their business and/or political interests and their positions of power. The maquiladoras are huge business for the US, European and Japanese companies who run the sweatshops, and the drugs trade helps support the Mexican border cities’ economies. All of that leads to massive corruption and an imbalance of power which unfortunately works against young, poor, vunerable Mexican women. Some theorize that some of the murders are to do with underground organ trafficking. Others claim that it’s become a breeding ground for serial killers with sick sexual fantasies (Michael Newton, Ciudad Juarez:  The Serial Killer’s Playground). Whatever the details, there is clearly a huge amount of corruption and collusion between those in power, which is allowing for these atrocious attacks to continue. Instead of protecting these women, for years the women in Juarez have been portrayed as immoral, sexually promiscuous, and branded as prostitutes, in essence suggesting they are to blame for their fate. The women in Juarez are treated as disposable as the products they manufacture on the production line in the maquiladoras.

No Angel Came -
No Angel Came -
Boy who lost his mother -
Boy who lost his mother -
by Linda Stetler,
by Linda Stetler,

The Rodarte designers claim that the inspiration for their Fall 2010 line came from the bordertown’s ‘ethereal’ landscape and the inspiring vision of young, pale-faced women walking to and from work to the factories during the night. It’s a sick irony that many of those young women never made it home from those walks.

I have never intended for this blog to become a slating ground for brands, and I don’t intend to go too much into how wrong I feel MAC is to produce this line. It doesn’t need to be said that their choice of names for these products was ill thought out and in poor taste. For both MAC and Rodarte to romanticise a place which is so full of violence, misogyny, and exploitation against women is baffling to me. It’s astonishing really that MAC, such a huge global brand, based in the US, could have possibly overlooked the connotation between Juarez and female exploitation. And since they must have known, the only way this could possibly have been an honourable thing to do would have been to actively use their global fame and immense marketing power to raise awareness AND MONEY for the affected families of the murders and the organisations working so hard to petition the government to do more to investigate the violence and injustice.

MAC have, in light of some backlash already arisen from the US press, bloggers and consumers, announced that they’ll be giving a portion of profit from the range to help those in Juarez ‘in some way’ and have apologised for the offence they’ve caused. This is not enough. The only way I can see MAC and Rodarte salvaging their reputations and integrity in this situation is to donate ALL profits from the Rodarte/MAC range (or at the very least from the ‘Juarez’ and ‘Factory’ nail polishes) and make a serious attempt to turn this negative situation into a means of creating positive change – through raising awareness of the very real exploitation and violence happening everyday in Ciudad Juarez.

A number of other bloggers are posting tonight about this issue, voicing their opinions and upset about the MAC/Rodarte collaboration. Please read their thoughts too, and feel free to leave your comments.

Beauty Mouth
London Makeup Girl
Mizz Worthy
British Beauty Blogger
Pretty in Dayton
Perfectly Polished
Big Fashionista
So Far So Chic
Vex in the City
Bangs and a Bun
Get Lippie
London Beauty Queen
Makeup Lover
Lady of the Lane
Really Ree
Just Nice Things
Le Petit Jardin de Liloo
The Beauty Button
Katie Chutzpah
My Lips But Better
Daily Polish
Makeup Advice Forum
WildCat Makeup (YouTube video): MAC Cosmetics – One Step Too Far? wildkatmakeup

For more information on the situation in Juarez (because I could go on for hours, but don’t think a blog is the place for it really), here are some great information sources about the Juarez murders and the maquiladoras:

Women on the Border
The Juarez Project
Taken by the Sky
Michael Newton, ‘Ciudad Juarez:  The Serial Killer’s Playground.’


On the Edge: The Femicide in Ciudad Juárez, documentary by Steev Hise (Illegal Art, 2006).
Juarez: The City where Women are Disposable, documentary by Alex Flores and Lorena Vassolo (Toronto, Canada: Las Perlas Del Mar Films, 2007).

I’d also be happy to share my dissertation with anyone that’s interested in my more academic take on the situation. Just drop me an email –

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25 thoughts on “MAC and Rodarte Collection and the Women of Ciudad Juarez

  1. Thank you for highlighting this. I’m English and only came across this news story after seeing a film about it on Youtube.

  2. Fantastic Blog! This obviously is a massively under reported issue and I agree with you it is in incredibly bad taste to choose names that make reference to such tragedies.

  3. the promo picture looks like death, truly chilling and the names of the products, well, i wouldnt want to own any of them, Mac has gone too far. Its a makeup range for gods sake.

  4. I too have written something up, but I’m trying mostly to focus on where interested people can go to donate on this cause. Since you wrote your dissertation on this area, do you know of any charities that are at work to which I can link? Thank you.

    1. Styrch – thank you for your comment.

      I wouldn’t like to profess to be the expert on which charities are the most active today in Juarez (I wrote my paper 2 years ago and I’d hate to give you the wrong information). However i think a good place to start would be:

      Amnesty International:
      Women on the Border:
      Casa Amiga:

      Hope that helps x

  5. Thanks for such impressive article. Thanks for pointing out, things in the Mexican-US border are not that simple and are, in fact, a global issue.

    As Mexican girl, when I first read the product names and the collection details on, as I was immediately aware of the connection between the collection and the situation in Ciudad Juarez, I posted my thoughts on this. It was, I believe, more than a month ago.

    Now that I see some of the products pictures, I must say it’s tasteless. However, I thankful for this collection. I don’t know if Rodarte or MAC planned this, but I’m really thankful.

    I live in Mexico City, but grew up in Merida (a city in the southeast of the country and the largest one farthest for Juarez). When female murders began I was a child and found out about it by newspapers. By that time, people was impressed, astonished, scared and some, angry. Nothing really has been done to solve or stop those murders and people outside Juarez have learned to live with them. Not many in the rest of the country really care. As a society, as country, we haven’t pushed our authorities or done anything to claim justice. The government won’t do anything to stop those crimes until their image in the whole world it’s seriously damaged. So I’m really thankful to Rodarte and MAC, even if this wasn’t intentional, but mostly to all intelligent women and beauty bloggers to put the facts on the table.

    As any kind of art, beauty doesn’t have to be superficial, but a powerful tool to inform and discuss and a sign of our culture and society.

    1. Eugenia – thank you so much from your comment. It’s wonderful to hear your perspective as someone who, first of all, already knew about the murders, and secondly, whom lives in Mexico. I have tried to give a truthful and factually backed depiction of the situation based on research, but it’s very hard – not living there, I rely really on what I’ve read – and it seems no one really knows the truth.

      To hear you say “Not many in the rest of the country really care” is so shocking, although it’s no different to people everywhere else in the world knowing about the horrible things going on in their own countries and elsewhere and doing nothing. It’s hard as an individual to know what to do. Much easier to forget.

      I agree that this is a positive thing. It’s given a few women the chance to spread the word. It’s not on a huge scale yet – but I’m hoping it means something and may help in some way. We all hope that Rodarte and MAC will make the real difference by turning this situation around to make a positive out of a negative and promote widespread awareness of the exploitation and violence against women in Juarez. If they could raise money too that would be even better.

      Thanks again for your beautiful comment.

  6. SUCH an amazingly articulate post on something that we’re all getting pretty wound up about at the moment. I loved it. Thank you so much. Like everyone else here, I’d love to read your dissertation some time! Thanks so much for all the informative links and film suggestions, etc. This is something that I really hope gets the support it needs in the long term to help these women and their families. In a horrible way, maybe all this business will turn out for the greater good. I hope so. xxx

    1. @Rebecca – thank you so much, I’ve always wanted to address this issue again since writing it. I’m compiling a list of those who’ve requested dissertation and will email over asap. I’ll also link to your post (I tried to find it before but couldn’t). Thanks again xx

      @sara – It’s great to hear from someone from CA. As I mentioned I studied at UCSB for a while. I was surprised that even a lot of the American (and many of them ‘Chicanas’) in the class didn’t know of the situation in Juarez. I certainly didn’t though – and no one I’ve ever told since has. It’s shockingly underreported.
      So yes, I completely agree – I’m glad it’s happened so we can open people’s eyes. I’ll add your link to my list. Thank you for your comment xx

  7. thank you for your post. i grew up in california and have been aware of juarez for as long as i can remember. i agree that the only way to make this right (if they insist on releasing it) is to donate ALL the proceeds to charity. in some ways i am glad this happened, so many people are in the dark about the situation in juarez and this has opened a LOT of eyes. i can only pray it’s enough to make a difference.

    i wrote a small consolidation post of other blogs on this subject too:


    1. Thanks Caroline. I will definitely send it to you – and others who’ve asked for it. Having Gmail issues so will try again tomorrow! Xxx

  8. What a well written and moving piece. We can only hope that this results in a raised awareness of the plight of the women of the Juarez and potentially MAC donating ALL proceeds. I’d be very interested in your dissertation, will email you. x

  9. Amazingly detailed post, thank you for writing this, I’ve been researching this today but my knowledge is nothing compared to yours. It made
    me cry.

    Another product that people should be aware of is re one called quinceiniara (sic) which I’m sure u r aware is a 15 year old girls coming of age party.

    What does that have to do with ethereal landscape Rodarte?

    1. Thank you. I too feel very emotional. To be honest I haven’t thought about this situation much since writing my dissertation. It’s all too easy in this life to forget about the horrors going on elsewhere in the world.
      In some ways I’m glad this issue over MAC/Rodarte has happened. Personally it’s given me the chance to re-explore what’s been going on in Juarez. Sadly not enough has changed. But perhaps this could lead to a much more global awareness and some real impartial investigation into what’s been going on. We can only hope.

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