The Designer Issue
By Rebekah Lazear
A recent string of racially insensitive products and advertisements from Italian fashion brands lead us to ask: what’s going on in Italy? Prada’s blackface monkey keychain, Gucci’s blackface turtleneck, and Dolce & Gabbana ‘s reinforcement of several harmful Chinese stereotypes all happened within a few months of each other. While many media outlets covered these scandals and their respective fallouts, no one is talking about the fact that these are all Italian brands.
Each brand pulled the offensive products from the public eye, and issued apologies. Gucci went so far as to implement a large-scale program to combat the racism in the fashion industry with its Change makers program. The first project will invest $5 million in community programs in North America. We as Americans know our current president is using harmful language while representing us on the global stage. We know the hurtful attitudes being portrayed by his supporters are painting us in a negative light. We also see the very vocal fight against these attitudes saying it is not okay to call immigrants criminals, to separate families or to silently accept the support of one of our country’s most hateful racist groups. We hope the global stage sees the internal backlash against our own representation. Because of this experience, I want to give Italian citizens the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe these large brands are painting the country in a bad light while the majority of the people are as offended by these incidents as we are. The same day the European soccer league asked referees to stop games when racial incidents occur, Italian fans yelled racial slurs at a Black Juventus (Italian team) player. Fellow teammates and a coach told the player it was partially his fault for inciting the comments. The teammate backtracked the next day, much like the fashion brands, following a backlash. Was there outrage from within Italy about this incident? Was there a backlash within the country against these fashion brands? If there was, it was never expressed on the same scale as the incidents themselves. Where is Gucci’s Changemakers investment in its own country? It is our duty as consumers to decide which brands to support. We vote with our dollars. It is up to us to continue to hold brands accountable. It is our outrage that causes brands to issue apologies and think twice before continuing to use Native American headdresses, blackface, and yellow stars as fashion. We don’t know what’s going on in Italy, but we do know we can only support the brands that are considerate enough to prevent these things from happening in the first place.