Poster boy Sikh joins fight against intolerance
Still proudly wearing his beard and turban, a Sikh lawyer turned entrepreneur has leapt to fame in America by transforming himself yet again into a pioneering fashion model for a nationwide advertising initiative.
Sandeep Singh “Sonny” Caberwal, 29, was recruited for a campaign promoting the Kenneth Cole men’s clothing brand, but it was also used by the controversial fashion mogul to support diversity by exposing stereotypes.
The campaign was entitled “We all walk in different shoes”.
As well as Sonny Caberwal, it featured a paralympic athlete, a feminist, Israeli and Palestinian film directors, a quadraplegic rugby player, a US soldier wounded in Afghanistan, a gay married couple, an HIV positive journalist and an immigrant mother.
Kenneth Cole has previously made headlines by raising issues ranging from Aids awareness to homelessness and the use of fur in clothing manufacture.
Seeking a suitable Sikh male, Mr Cole’s casting agency not unexpectedly drew a blank among modelling agencies which have traditionally seen turban wearing as a limitation for models. The agency had to contact Sikh organisations and that’s how the search reached the ears of Sonny Caberwal, who has always worn a turban.
Kenneth Cole stipulated that his Sikh had to be highly educated and Sonny Caberwal certainly fits the bill.
Son of a doctor, he was born in North Carolina, and graduated from Duke University and the Georgetown University Law Centre. He was a practising attorney in Manhattan before changing direction to co-found tea retailer Tavalon Tea.
He entered the fashion world in October 2007 hoping the awareness generated by the ad campaign would benefit his community in a country where violent attitudes towards Muslim extremists sometimes spill over on to Sikhs. His brother-in-law is among those who have been subjected to taunts, physical threats and job discrimination.
Kenneth Cole wanted his campaign to teach that Sikhs are ordinary US citizens “who wear cool clothes and think just like other Americans”, said Mr Caberwal and he himself now uses his poster boy celebrity to speak out about religious intolerance and negative stereotyping.
On a website associated with Harvard University, he draws attention among other things to harassment experienced by many Sikh children in American schools.
He says the US schools curriculum glosses over the Sikh religion and many American youngsters’ perceptions of turbans and beards are influenced by media portrayals of the Taliban and terrorism.
Mr Caberwal says the Kenneth Cole campaign has given Sikh children the opportunity to feel proud of their Sikh identity at school, where they may previously have experienced hatred.
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