Fighting Racism in Style
Making Sure the Brands You Buy From Are Not Racist
By Kendra Clark
Image courtesy of on Alexander_Koch on Pixabay
The fashion industry has a strong presence in people's lives, especially students. The voices of brands like Adidas, H&M and Nike are widely listened to, so it’s important for them to do their part and speak up about what is right. Regarding political movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’, it can be difficult for people to accept that politics is a part of fashion and it is important what brands we financially support. Considering the huge platform and finances these fashion brands have, it is not satisfactory for them to sit back and ignore the current socio-political crisis erupting in our society today.
Campaigners are calling brands to match their own calls for diversity and raise their voice in support of the protesters during the Black Lives Matter movement. A huge way campaigners did this was using the hashtag, ‘#blackouttuesday’, on Instagram on the 2nd June 2020. Many brands shared a dark screen with lengthy captions which denounced racism and discrimination. Although many people believe this act didn’t seem to really make a difference, it did identify brands who will and will not stand up and speak up against racism.
However, many brands have been accused of ‘brand activism’, where they jump on the bandwagon for political, social or economic issues to gain the public approval and an increase in sales. A survey in 2018 that covered 35 countries showed that 64% of consumers would reward firms they see as engaged in some kind of activism. This proves that brand activism and brand beliefs do have a large impact on the public view towards them, which leads to a resulting increase or decrease in sales. Because of this, brands are desperate to take part in these issues and can be accused of hypocrisy when attempting to raise their socially-conscious profile when their track record of beliefs may not line up with the representation of ethnic minorities in their team of employees.
Nike is a popular brand amongst students especially and has had a strong record of fighting against racism. Nike featured an ad with Colin Kaepernick with the slogan “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.” Colin Kaepernick is a former NFL quarterback who started to kneel for the pre-game national anthem in protest at racial injustice in the United States. He claimed he had been rejected and kicked out by his team owners for taking part in these protests. Just days after this ad, Nike sales surged 31% and the ad won the outstanding commercial at the Creative Arts Emmys.
However, soon the attention shifted to Nike’s diversity within their employees and public records showed that less than 10% of its 300-plus vice-presidents worldwide were black. This caused people to believe that Nike was just acting out of brand activism during this advert and doing what many other brands do in the fashion industry: capitalizing off of black culture while not welcoming black talent through its doors. Nevertheless, the company has recently promised to donate $40 million over the next four years to support the black community in the US.
Gucci has been slightly more controversial as a brand that actively fights against racism. In 2019 they were accused of resembling blackface by selling a black polo-neck jumper that covered half the face and featured cartoonish red lips. They deeply apologised for this act however and hired a diversity chief to make sure they didn’t make the same mistake twice. Gucci was also one of the many brands who released a statement after the death of George Floyd where they stated: “As changemakers, we join the fight to end systematic racism, bigotry, police violence and oppression”. They also announced it will donate to the civil rights organisations NAACP, Campaign Zero and Your Rights camp.
A much more controversial brand when it comes to racism is L’Oreal Paris. In 2017, they fired Munroe Bergdorf, a black and transgender model after she spoke up against white supremacy and claimed that all white people were racist. In response, L’Oreal Paris tweeted “L’oreal champions diversity. Comments by Munroe Bergdorf are at odds with our values and so we have decided to end our partnership with her”. During blackout Tuesday, the beauty brand posted a black screen along with the caption “Speaking out is worth it”, very controversial to the way they treated former employee Bergdorf. Bergdorf responded with “You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy”. These comments by L’Oreal came with a lot of backlash in support of Bergdorf’s response.
However, focusing more positively on L'Oreal's future, they promised to make a commitment to the NAACP to support progress in the fight against racism. More recently, the brand’s new president, Delphine Viguier apologised for the way the situation was handled and made the decision to rehire Bergdorf to join the company's UK diversity and inclusion advisory board.
Another racism scandal by a brand you may have heard of is the issue where H&M advertised a hoodie saying “Coolest monkey in the jungle” on a black child. To make matters worse, a white child modelled a hoodie saying “Mangrove jungle survival expert”. People claimed that they were comparing the boys’ position in the jungle which reflected their position in society. The brand sincerely apologised after backlash claiming that it was deeply inappropriate and offensive.
H&M also joined the blackout Tuesday trend where they said they will be donating $500,000 to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Colour of Change and the American Civil Liberties Union. They also closed 95 of their stores during the protests.
Other supportive brands include Marc Jacobs, Rihanna’s lingerie brand Fenty, Adidas and many more. By wearing a brand, you are advertising them and whether you like it or not, fashion is political. This is why it’s important to do your research before you buy and know the history of the brands you are supporting and what they are doing to fight against racism and for equal rights.