Katy Perry, Prada, Gucci, Moncler, what do all of these brands have in common? Recently, all of these fashion brands have come under fire for using blackface in their clothing. Back in December 2018, Prada released Pradamalia, which included blackface figurines. Gucci recently released a sweater with bright red lips cutout over a black turtleneck. Back in 2016 Moncler released a jacket with the image of a Sambo-like character. However, the photos have resurfaced again. Finally, Katy Perry released a pair of black shoes reminiscent of blackface imagery. Sadly, there are many more instances that I could add to this list.
It's no secret that blackface is offensive. Two hundred years ago, white performers painted their faces black and drew large exaggerated red lips to mock enslaved Black people. Blackface, even when it was more widely accepted was steeped in racism and in two hundred years that hasn't changed. It should go without saying that blackface is not permissible in any shape, form, or fashion. Each piece of clothing that is released by a brand goes through a process and is seen by many eyes. Yet, the fact that various fashion brands continue to use blackface in their clothing and on the runway has me wondering why?
Could it be that these fashion designers are using blackface on purpose? Back in the 90s, it was rumored that Tommy Hilfiger stated in an interview with Oprah that “he didn’t want Black people wearing his clothes.” Although he has denied saying that, he did say “aligning with the hip-hop community in the ’90s fueled growth but took us away from our roots. Our brand shouldn’t just be one thing. It’s all about pop culture. It’s hip-hop, rock, Hollywood, the entertainment world. I wouldn’t want only to be known for [rock style] either.” While we may never hear fashion designers say that they don't want Black people wearing their clothes, actions speak louder than words. Therefore, when a brand uses blackface, the message to me as a Black consumer is that you don't want me to buy your clothes and further you're not making your clothing with me in mind.
Some celebrities have started to boycott these brands and are urging others to do the same. Spike Lee stated, “he’s not going to wear Gucci or Prada until they hire some Black designers.” Likewise, T.I. developed a call to action in which he urges people not to buy from Gucci, Prada, or Moncler for the next 90 days or wear their clothing. According to a new Nielsen report, Black people in the U.S. have $1.2 trillion dollars in spending power. That is a lot of money and while not spending money on these fashion brands for a period of time is a start, do these designers even really care when Black people decide not to buy or wear their clothes? In my opinion, I don't think so.
There have been many instances when fashion brands have stood up and fought for social justice causes. For example, when Trump threatened to ban people from majority Muslim countries from entering the United States, designers took a stand by sending models down the runway during New York Fashion Week in outfits covered with words like “immigrant” and “human. This shows that fashion brands do have the ability to take a stand for causes that they deem worthy. Therefore, I ask again could it be that these fashion designers are using blackface on purpose? Could the use of blackface in fashion be a part of their marketing campaigns? If so, “it seems to consist of the following: brand displays offensive material, online community responds with anger, disbelief and calls for boycott of brand, brand takes down offensive material and releases vapid statement using phrases like “we deeply regret”, “does not reflect our core beliefs” and “we are committed to representing diversity”, rage cools off, calls for boycotts are forgotten, business as usual for the brand.” Therefore black outrage is used as free publicity for these brands. If this is true, what are we to do? Waka Flocka stated “My advice to all stop getting mad at all white people and get mad at the companies and the old mu–of–ers. Ya'll need to stop putting their clothes on. Stop making excuses, stop accepting apologies. … It’s that simple. Start investing in Black high fashion.”
At this point, it's not enough for these brands to continue apologizing because the apologies feel empty, especially for repeat offenders. It's also not enough for us as consumers to not support these brands for only a short period of time. Rather, we need to consider doing what Waka suggests and invest only in Black brands. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!