Fashion and the Black Lives Matter Movement


Maya Barber takes a look at the fashion industry's response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and discuses why these responses, although sometimes problematic, are vital

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Image by PDBVerlag

By Maya Barber

The murder of George Floyd has sparked a vital and widespread conversation about existing systemic racial injustice. A crucial step in the progression of this conversation is accountability; the Black Lives Matter movement has begun to place an expectation on the individual to not simply be passively non-racist, but to be actively anti-racist. The social media presence of fashion brands means that now more than ever, there is an increasingly close relationship between the consumer and the producer, allowing brands to be held to the same standard as public figures.

The alternative online boutique Dolls Kill found itself in controversy over comments made by co-founder Shoddy Lynn about the protests taking place in L.A. American comedian and rapper, Elijah Daniel, shared Lynn’s post and went viral. His tweet remarked on an Instagram post Lynn shared on her private account, depicting the Dolls Kill L.A. store with a line of armed police officers in front of it, captioned: “Direct Action in its glory”. This sparked a flood of negative comments from many who perceived this as Lynn praising the police force for shooting the peaceful protesters outside her store. This post acted as a catalyst for many other influencers to speak out against the brand, starting the hashtag #dollskillboycott. The number of people denouncing the brand began to grow in the days following Daniel’s tweet made on June 1, ranging from prominent influencers to general customers.

Another brand who is facing accusations of racism is the trendy, sustainable clothing brand Reformation. Influencer Elle Santiago made a detailed Instagram post in which she exposed the many times she experienced racial discrimination when working with the brand, such as them promoting her white colleagues over herself, who was the more qualified and experienced candidate.

Reformation is a prime example of what can be achieved through pressure from social media. In an Instagram post titled ‘I’ve Failed’, Reformation founder Yael Aflalo made a statement in response to the allegations against her brand: “The way we have practiced diversity in the past has been through a ‘white gaze’ that falls too close to ignorance… As a company, we have not leveraged our platform, our voice, and our content to combat the racism and injustice that pervades our country”. Most significantly, however, is Yael Aflalo’s decision to step down as CEO, as called for by Santiago in her Instagram post. Aflalo herself has also promised to donate $500,000 to three charities helping fight for black rights in the US. In addition, the brand will be launching a Diversity and Inclusion Board, and have vowed to put more emphasis on working with Black creators throughout the creative process.

The immense backlash received on social media has also been paramount in compelling Dolls Kill to take a stance on the Black Lives Matter movement and incite some form of change, both within the fashion community and the company itself. The brand released a statement entitled ‘To Our Community’ in which they intended to clarify the brand’s position on the Black Lives Matter movement. They acknowledged that silence is compliance, and that there is a “need to do more than be passively ‘not racist’”. They acted on this statement through committing to buy “$1 Million dollars worth of product from Black-owned fashion brands and designers” as well as partnering with them “to donate 100% of the profits to charities and organizations of their choice”. This is just one example of how social media can be utilised to amplify voices that often go unheard, becoming an effective tool in promoting change.

There are many fashion and beauty companies however, who have used their platform and large following to support the Black Lives Matter movement and contribute to the many campaigns for change. One of which being the skincare and beauty company Glossier. The brand is donating $1 Million to fight against “systemic racism, white supremacy, and the historic oppression of the Black Community”. $500,000 is going to charities and organisations who are spearheading the Black Lives Matter movement, and the other $500,000 is going to Black-owned beauty businesses. From personal experience, I have always identified Glossier as a brand that promotes diversity. When shopping online for foundation as a mixed-race girl, it was refreshing to see Glossier using models of different ethnicities to demonstrate their products, rather than white models with varying levels of tan. Diversity and inclusivity are ingrained in the ethos of the brand, making their contribution to the movement all the more valid, as they are not just jumping on the ‘trend’.

The same can be said for the infamous sportswear brand Adidas, who have always shown support for black athletes. Interestingly, Adidas released a statement on Twitter announcing the three-pronged approach through which they would be adapting their brand in relation to ‘People, Communities, and Accountability’. The sportswear brand will be investing $120 million towards Black communities in the United States over the next four years. Moreover, they have vowed to adopt a Zero Tolerance Policy in their effort to accept and improve their accountability.

Though, there is the ability to question: should fashion brands be required to comment on such movements? In their Instagram post captioned ‘We fucked up’, Dolls Kill claimed that, as a fashion brand, they never felt it was their place to publicly comment. In considering this statement, it is true that as a large company, it is not possible to represent the ideals of everyone who works for you. There is also the danger of performative activism, in that brands feel pressured to respond, but do so without inciting any form of change. Once again, Dolls Kill can be used as an example. Before making any public statement regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, the brand posted three black squares on their Instagram for ‘Blackout Tuesday’. They shared no links to petitions or educational resources, nor did they use their platform to share the perspectives of those who encounter racial discrimination.

Ultimately, fashion brands should be expected to comment on movements such as Black Lives Matter, as industry plays a huge role in shaping the norm. We see fashion and beauty campaigns daily, and what we see inescapably influences what we consider to be ‘normal; exposure to diversity would help to create a more accepting and tolerant society. They are huge corporations we are giving our money to, and although one individual cannot represent the views of an entire workforce, CEOs and those high up in the company indubitably impact the way the company functions as a whole. One ignorant leader, and the entire brand can lack diversity and awareness. This is why, even following their statement, Dolls Kill are still facing criticism. Though the company’s efforts to change and support the Black Lives Matter movement are invaluable and will undoubtedly encourage many of their customers to do the same, they never addressed the comments made by their co-founder Shoddy Lynn. Fashion brands are required to promote inclusivity and diversity, as at its core, fashion is a form of expression meant for all.

As an individual, it can often feel as though you alone lack the ability to make a significant impact. However, as we have seen in the US, seemingly simple actions such as signing petitions and making small donations do indeed provoke remarkable change. Another simple way to support the movement, especially as a student, is to purchase from Black-owned fashion and beauty brands.

Here are some to take a look at:

  1. Nubian Skin
  2. Fenty Beauty
  3. Daughter of Bohemian
  4. Sincerely Nude
  5. Seta the Label
  6. AleroJasmine
  7. Grass Fields
  8. Liha Beauty 
  9. Anita Grant 
  10. Ofuure