Some high fashion houses such as Gucci and Burberry have come under fire for creating racially insensitive clothing. Gucci drew headlines and bile from the internet when it sent a blackface sweater to market. The fashion faux pas seems to be only escalating not declining. It was January 2018 that Swedish retailer H&M released to the internet an ad of a Black child in a green hoodie that read, “coolest monkey in the jungle.” Shortly after, the fashion house hired a diversity director. By November, the media was singing H&M’s praise.
But the noise about racial symbolism and appropriating is so loud now, some may start to think that Black people are too sensitive. The Miami Times rejects that notion.
Blame seem to always fall on the advertising and marketing agencies that represent the brands for not noticing that the garments are racist in their messages and not able to stop the ensuing firestorm.
Diversifying the marketing team solution may not be that simple. Even young Black stars can be caught wearing clothes that one columnist in Black Enterprise said drew “a side eye.” The article mentions that Beyonce wore a sweater that some say had an image of a racist Black caricature called Sambo. And there-in lies part of the problem. If a young Black star who speaks out on racial injustice in her music cannot recognize past symbols of hate, then how is it that we can expect white designers to know that they have crossed the line?
According to Ferris State University, the Sambo caricature is the most-offensive of all anti-Black caricatures. Ferris is host of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia but does anyone know it exists?
There is no excuse for design houses to say we did not know that this looks or sounds racist. When designers want to have the most-minute detail of a set or period design they do research. They spend hundreds of dollars in time and energy to get the details correct so that they can call their work authentic.
Designers need to do the same due diligence when it comes to creating pieces targeted at Black people and other ethnic groups. There is no reason to be stunned when Black Twitter takes a fashion house to task for a product that reflects sloppy research. Mea culpa isn’t going to cut it.
It took years of knocking on doors to get ethnic models on the runway. Lately different body types have joined the runway, too. Now fashion houses need to add diverse people to their creative teams. Hold them responsible when things go sideways. At the same time, fashion houses should stress to their staff that they must gather information about the designs before presenting them for concepts.
Black people overrepresent some of those labels. They could sooner move on too.