Systemic racism is so pervasive that it is even ingrained into clothing and the fashion brands that make them.
Case in point: Gucci sent the internet into a fiery rage back in 2019 when it debuted the release of its new turtle neck sweater that resembled blackface. Social media users and fashion fanatics alike gasped in horror to see the fashion powerhouse promoting the turtleneck, donning a pair of Sambo-esque red lips. They were even more offended by how much the hideously designed piece of attire would cost them. $899, if you’re wondering.
Like all big companies, Gucci quickly panicked and eventually issued an apology to customers for releasing the insensitive fashion faux pas. Days later, the backlash quickly fizzled and customers were back online shopping their hearts away again with the storied high-end brand.
Now, three years, later, it appears as though we’re back in the same position — only this time, Balenciaga is the culprit.
The luxury fashion house is currently under fire for their new pair of sweatpants that many people feel is appropriating Black culture.
The Trompe-L’Oeil pants, which are selling for a whopping $1,190, feature red and green boxers that are woven into the lining of gray sweatpants. The saggy boxer look is a style that has its roots in prison and was popularized by rappers before being demonized by law enforcement over the years.
The trend began to blossom in the 1990s, but, according to NPR, two myths currently stand about the saggy look’s origins. One is that convicts were usually prohibited from wearing belts with their oversized prison uniforms that often sagged. The theory is that prisoners could have maintained this look once they returned to the outside. Another trope suggests that prisoners wore their boxers below the belt to let other inmates know that they were “sexually available,” the outlet notes, but it’s unclear if either remains to be true.
What is true is that Black men have been disproportionately impacted and incarcerated at a higher rate for sporting the fashion choice … and we’re not talking by the fashion police, either. Black men who wear their jeans below the belt are often characterized as thugs, labeled as gang members and are more times than not flagged by police officials for exhibiting suspicious behavior.
In fact, several cities have passed laws banning saggy pants for good including in states like Tennesse, New Jersey, and Florida. The city of Ocala, Florida, in particular, passed a law banning saggy pants offenders in 2014. The piece of legislation slammed young Black and Latino city-goers with potential jail time and fines of up to $500, the Ocala Post reported.
Sadly, Balenciaga and Gucci are far from the only fashion labels that have been accused of racism over the years. Here are a few other brands that have made some culturally insensitive fashion choices.
1. Prada’s Blackface FigurineSource:Getty
While walking past the Prada store in downtown New York in 2018, Chinyere Ezie, a civil rights lawyer, was startled by what she saw as she approached the window display. Black monkey figurines, that bore an eerie resemblance to Blackface lined the luxury store’s window. After entering the store, Ezie said she was “assaulted with more bewildering examples” of the companies “Sambo-like imagery.” The Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer uploaded pictures from the scene to Facebook where she detailed more about the traumatizing experience.
“When I asked a Prada employee whether they knew they had plastered blackface imagery throughout their store, in a moment of surprising candor I was told that *a black employee had previously complained about blackface at Prada, but he didn’t work there anymore.” Ezie continued, “History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better.”
In 2019, Ezie filed a formal complaint with the commission to hold Prada accountable for the offensive imagery, NBC notes. The company eventually released a statement apologizing for the fashion mishap.
“We would like to convey our deep regret and sincere apologies for the Pradamalia products that were offensive,” the statement, posted on Twitter, read in part. The company also said it would donate proceeds from the products to an organization for racial justice and was “taking immediate steps to learn from this.”
The companies designers, Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli were forced to undergo sensitivity training as a part of the settlement deal.
2. Dolce & Gabbana Racist AdSource:Getty
In 2018, Dolce & Gabbana found itself in hot water after the brand debuted a series of racist ads promoting their Shanghai runway event, dubbed “The Great Show,” on Nov. 21.
The videos feature an Asian woman in a lavish Dolce & Gabbana dress attempting to eat pizza, spaghetti, and a cannoli with chopsticks. With Chinese folk music playing in the background, a Mandarin-speaking voiceover kicks in and says: “Welcome to the first episode of ‘Eating with Chopsticks’ by Dolce & Gabbana” — “pronounced incorrectly on purpose in a way that mocks Chinese speech”, NPR notes.
The male voice continues to explain how to “properly” eat the American delicacies.
“Is it too big for you?” the voiceover says in one scene when the woman doesn’t know what to do with the gigantic cannoli. “Let’s use these small stick-like things to eat our great pizza Margherita,” he instructs in another video. D&G quickly removed the culturally insensitive video from Chinese social media platforms within 24 hours, but not before the backlash ensued.
The company later issued an apology to customers on its Instagram page, stating that it had been hacked, although commenters shared their skepticism behind the company’s swift and seemingly insincere apology.
“We are very sorry for any distress caused by these unauthorized posts, comments, and direct messages,” the statement read. “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China.”
This isn’t the first time that fashion giant has been slammed for their racist fashion sense. Back in 2016, the company received an outpour of backlash over their “Slave Sandals.”
3. H&M Monkey SweatshirtSource:Getty
H&M was slammed and boycotted in 2018 after the company used a young black boy to model a sweatshirt that bore the words “coolest monkey in the jungle,” on their website. Social media called out the fashion brand for the racist hoodie and customers around the world stopped shopping at stores in a few cities.
The racist item was reportedly being sold in the U.K, USA Today notes.
“We sincerely apologize for offending people with this image of a printed hooded top,” H&M said in a statement. “The image has been removed from all online channels and the product will not be for sale in the United States. We believe in diversity and inclusion in all that we do and will be reviewing all our internal policies accordingly to avoid any future issues.”
4. Tommy Dorfman Complains Of Racism in Ferragamo WorkplaceSource:Getty
Actor Tommy Dorfman partnered with the high fashion brand as a photographer and curator for its 2020 “Viva Viva” campaign, but just three months into this collaboration with the fashion giant, the “13 Reasons Why” star quickly cut ties with the company citing racism as the cause.
“The people who run this company are racist,” Dorfman wrote in his Instagram stories. “They are transphobic. They are not body-positive. They will say ‘but we have cast black people and trans people’ which is true, but only by force of hand.” The actor, who identifies as non-binary continued, “And those numbers remain small. And they fail to treat them equally. Only because of rage and threats to pull out of shooting a campaign for them did they succumb.”
Dorfman then recalled an incident during his time with the company when he was “asked if, in photoshop, they could make a black model white.”
“They have said heinous transphobic, body phobic, and racist things directly to me,” Dorfman added. “I called them out every time and they promised to change. They said they ‘learned.’ They have very clearly not learned, nor have they changed.”
Ferragamo never responded to Dorfman’s claims but dedicated an Instagram post to ending racism during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests last year.
5. Louis Vuitton Jamaican Sweatshirt Features Wrong Flag ColorsSource:Getty
Earlier this year, Louis Vuitton was criticized for creating a sweater that they claimed was supposed to honor the Jamaican flag, but customers turned heads after they realized the Caribbean-themed sweatshirt was made using the wrong colors. The price tag that came along with the fashionable offense had customers clenching their pockets when the company revealed the sweatshirt would cost them $1340.
Social media goers wagged their fingers at the company with some calling for the fashion giant to implement more diversity throughout their fashion boards to combat racism. Some people felt as though the company mistook the Ethiopian flag for the Jamaican national symbol.
6. Burberry’s Noose HoodieSource:Getty
Burberry was criticized in 2019 after they featured a model wearing a hoodie with strings tied in the shape of a noose in their runway show during London Fashion Week.
A model named Liz Kennedy posted a picture of the tone-def design on her Instagram page and she called the luxury brand out with a lengthy caption.
“@burberry @riccardotisci17 Suicide is not fashion. It is not glamorous nor edgy and since this show is dedicated to the youth expressing their voice, here I go,” she wrote.”Riccardo Tisci and everyone at Burberry it is beyond me how you could let a look resembling a noose hanging from a neck out on the runway.”
“How could anyone overlook this and think it would be okay to do this especially in a line dedicated to young girls and youth. The impressionable youth. Not to mention the rising suicide rates worldwide. Let’s not forget about the horrifying history of lynching either. There are hundreds of ways to tie a rope and they chose to tie it like a noose completely ignoring the fact that it was hanging around a neck.”
Marco Gobetti, the chief executive of the company said in a statement following the controversy that Burberry was “deeply sorry for the distress” the top had caused and removed it from the autumn-winter collection along with promo advertising the item, the Guardian notes.
Riccardo Tisci, Burberry’s creative director, also apologized, saying “while the design was inspired by a nautical theme, I realize that it was insensitive”
7. Comme des Garçons Cornrow DebacleSource:Getty
The Japanese fashion brand had fans and people on social media turning their heads when pictures from their Paris Fashion Week show surfaced last year. Models were pictured wearing a straight back lace front as they walked down the runway to show off Comme des Garçons’ FW20 collection, but soon after, folks pummeled the brand for cultural appropriation.
Tani, a Candian fashion designer, was one of the first people to call out the brand. “Lmaoooo why?!” she wrote on Twitter, sharing a picture of the models wearing the ridiculous wig.
Shortly after the company’s insensitive hair debacle spread across the internet like wildfire, the wig’s designer, Julien d’Ys, took to Instagram to issue an apology.
“My inspiration for the comme des garçons show was Egyptian prince,” he wrote. “…Never was it my intention to hurt or offend anyone, ever. If I did I deeply apologize.” Commes des Garçons also issued an apology to Dazed. “The inspiration for the headpieces for Comme des Garçons menswear FW’20 show was the look of an Egyptian prince. It was never ever our intention to disrespect or hurt anyone – we deeply and sincerely apologize for any offense it has caused,” the statement read.
8. Tommy Hilfiger Says He Doesn’t Make Clothes For Black PeopleSource:Getty
It was the story that haunted Tommy Hilfiger for more than a decade. In the ’90s, Hilfiger’s designs became popular among the hip-hip community with stars like the late Aaliyah, Wu-Tang, and LLC Cool J who effortlessly dawned the classic red, white and blue logo in their music videos and shows. However, in 1996, many people received a suspicious e-mail that had the fashion brand at the center of a racist rumor. According to Highsnobiety, the email allegedly read:
“Did you see the recent Oprah Winfrey show on which Tommy Hilfiger was a guest? Oprah asked Hilfiger if his alleged statements about people of color were true – he’s been accused of saying things such as ‘If I had known that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians would buy my clothes, I would not have made them so nice,’ and ‘I wish those people would not buy my clothes – they were made for upper-class whites.”
The questionable message went on to claim that Hilfiger had made the flippant remark while speaking to Oprah on her show and concluded by asking fans to boycott the brand.
Years later, it turned out that Hilfiger never made the comment and that he had never appeared on Oprah that year. Although in May of 2007, Oprah did eventually invite the designer to tell his side of the story.
“It’s contrary to what my business motive was at the beginning,” he explained of the rumor. “I wanted to sell a lot of clothes to a lot of people.”
Tommy Hilfiger issued a statement via the company months later further denouncing the false hearsay.
“We are disturbed to learn that an ugly rumor has been circulating about our company,” the statement read. “Since we understand that you have been the recipient of false information we wanted to set the record straight. The facts are simple and incontrovertible. Tommy Hilfiger did not make the alleged inappropriate racial comments.”
9. Barneys Accused Of Racial ProfilingSource:Getty
Shortly before going bankrupt, Barneys was hit with a massive lawsuit by two African American shoppers on separate occasions in 2013. 19-year-old Trayon Christian was accosted by undercover police at the store after he purchased a $350 Ferragamo belt. Even after Christian supplied store personnel with the sales receipt and debit card he used for the purchase, the store still accused him of using fake identification to purchase the expensive designer item. One of the store’s staff members allegedly said that Christian “could not afford to make such an expensive purchase,” BET notes.
After Christian’s suit was filed, a Black shopper by the name of Kayla Phillips sued the shopping department for $5 million after she was confronted by the store for purchasing a $2,500 Céline handbag, the report added.
Christian later settled with the department store for $45,000 in the suit in 2016. Barneys was also required to pay a fine of $525,000 and they were required to “hire an anti-profiling consultant” to “re-train its employees” as conditions outlined in the settlement, Reuters notes.
10. Dior Native American AdSource:Getty
In 2019, Dior released an ad featuring a Native American dancer dawning a ceremonial garb and feathered headdress to promote their “Sauvage” cologne. Customers called out the fashion brand for cultural appropriation and racism citing that both the imagery and the name of the cologne were harmful to the Native American community.
Dior quickly pulled the ad following the uproar.