Many brands have been slow to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The fashion industry remains apolitical until it can no longer afford to be in that position.
It has been relatively hard to keep up with which brands have shown solidarity with Black Lives Matter. There has been so much performative activism by brands, some of which have been exposed for lacking diversity and having blatantly racist corporate and retail structures in place, that people want to know who has shown that solidarity and actually donated to the cause. I want to address how brands responded immediately after the murder of George Floyd, in particular, luxury brands. Why did they decide to remain apolitical until their hand was forced?
Louis Vuitton largely remained silent in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death and they still are. There is more on their page about the LV Pont 9, seemingly using pride as a marketing tool more than anything else. The brand launched the bag using influencers, too. Louis Vuitton, and these influencers, have a global reach. So, why aren’t they using their following to address the global issue of anti-Blackness and the growing political unrest in the USA and UK? In my opinion, this radio silence cannot be justified.
The initial silence from many brands – some continue to remain relatively silent – is their attempt to stay apolitical. The purpose of being apolitical for these brands is obvious, they want to maximise their profits, because they fear political communication in their marketing can alienate other customers. It’s ironic as their Instagram page is covered in Pride Month. They are not necessarily celebrating Pride Month because they agree with the LGBTQ+ community, but they are pandering to those customers, and to other customers who also support equality for that community. Why is it any different for Black Lives Matter? Louis Vuitton is glad to take money from their Black customers, even appearing to profit from the appropriation of their culture. The least they could do is show solidarity by helping.
There are smaller brands, and other luxury brands, that have publicly donated. Louis Vuitton was one of the brands that halted production in their factories of their own products to produce more hand sanitiser due to the shortage from the COVID-19 outbreak. It just goes to show that influencers, and some luxury brands, highlight the dichotomy between the importance of public health versus human rights is. They prioritise public health because it’s an issue that fundamentally affects everyone, in particular Black people, but they are still included in that group. However, the injustices of Black people and their equality doesn’t affect them, unless they gain followers and take their money.
We eventually got a response from Louis Vuitton in regard to Black Lives Matter. A little post about how we all need to make a change to be freed of racism in society. There are no links on how to help with the Black Lives Matter movement and no statement of how they themselves will tackle the issue of racism. The brands that remain apolitical, put up a little performative activism, then carry on with their feed is telling.
Salvatore Ferragamo is one of the many brands that seemingly participated in performative activism. They played their part in Blackout Tuesday, then later released a small post about Black Lives Matter, with very light-skinned hands. Tommy Dorfman had much to say about their post and the anti-Black culture at Salvatore Ferragamo. In the comments, he says the post “is tone deaf and does absolutely nothing” and continues to stay that it “is below the minimum a company of your size could do to make reparations”. He’s not wrong.
This comes after Dorfman also commented on the Salvatore Ferragamo he casted and photographed earlier in February this year. Viva Viva featured a diverse range of models: Paloma Elsesser, Dara Allen, Olivia Sui, Kiersey Clemens alongside Debby Ryan and Camila Mendes. The campaign wasn’t as easy going as the pictures Dorfman shot were. Dorfman revealed that the project was not as progressive as Ferragamo makes it out to be.
Dorfman, whose pronouns are they/them, expressed his opinion of Salvatore Ferragamo. They said “I regret ever associating myself with the brand” and detailed the experiences of the brand’s blatant racism, fat-phobia and transphobia. They posted their experience of the company asking if they could photoshop a Black model white. Dorfman repeatedly raised issues of blatant discrimination with the company’s team. The brand served nothing but “meaningless apologies” and threatened legal action if people were to speak out on their discrimination.
“They have said heinous, transphobic, body phobic, and racist things directly to me. 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”.
The actor culminated their post saying that “We have to, as white people, take a look at where and when we have been complacent and part of racism, homophobia, and transphobia both directly and indirectly and call it out. Call ourselves out. People have the right to know where to spend their money and where not to”
Fashion is Failing Black Lives Matter
This is not just about George Floyd. This is about Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless others that are victims of police violence, white supremacy and anti-Blackness in society. There were dozens of luxury brands rushing to aid the burning of Notre-Dame Cathedral last year, where no one died in the fire. The donations were in the hundreds of millions, now brands have barely opened their purse strings for Black Lives Matter. Those relief efforts were later followed by their donations to the Australian Bushfires, then the COVID-19 Relief Efforts. There was no hesitancy.
Why are brands hesitant when it comes to Black Lives Matter? Why do they remain apolitical? Why are they being tight with their money? It’s because these brands don’t actually want to combat change. They want it to seem like they are constantly battling for positive change, without actually having to do it, so they don’t really care about racial violence, anti-Blackness or police brutality. They want to retain that pristine image, after all that’s why people purchase their products, to show they are part of that upper-class and ‘pure’ lifestyle.
These luxury brands, and other brands in general, are not showing solidarity. You shouldn’t have to ask for solidarity. They are supporting Black Lives Matter after backlash. The fashion industry needs to do better and actually put in action.