Illustration: Fin MacDonald
Brands are the guiding images of our consumer society. We follow them on social media, depend on them for perceiving worth and go to them for entertainment. With branding everywhere from our screens to our bus stops and, as servers of the consumer, they have a responsibility to represent their customers, to encourage diversity, demonstrate solidarity and support those from minority groups.
Amidst the Black Lives Matter movement, every brand on my Instagram and Twitter feed were posting about how they support Black people’s rights, including L’Oréal, Facebook and Vogue. But do they really? Fashion brands such as Topshop, Urban Outfitters and Kendall + Kylie claim to support people of colour whilst failing to pay Bangladeshi workers for their work during the pandemic. These workers are not covered by government financial aid schemes and have done hours of unpaid labour just because Kylie Jenner wants her billionaire label. Billionaire and owner of Topshop, Philip Green, is bathing in his wealth on his luxury superyacht posting #blacklivesmatter but does not care that hundreds of his employees who are people of colour cannot afford to eat tonight because he refuses pay a sum that would hardly dent his worth.
Spanish women’s fashion brand, Gimagaus, had me boycott buying from them. They did ‘their bit’ for BLM, posted a picture of young black boys and said that sales from one of their dresses was going to a charity combatting racism in Barcelona. Although this is a step in the right direction, the only black faces I could see scrolling through their Instagram page were those black boys which frankly have nothing to do with a womenswear brand. After messaging them about the lack of black representation on their page, they proceeded to send me screenshots of models of colour they had used, all of whom were very fair skinned mixed-race models who do not represent dark skinned beauty but rather resemble the tanned white models they use. After reiterating how they need to represent the dark-skinned community they responded by saying they were ‘looking for ways to support this matter’ yet continued to post pictures of skinny white girls for their next 30 posts. As a brand who sources inspiration from the ‘exotic’, it seems as though they are yet another brand who exploit POC’s culture for their ‘exotic’ look branded for white girls.
And the lack of solidarity does not stop there. Weeks after George Floyd’s death black, trans activist, model and DJ Munroe Bergdorf criticised L’Oréal for dropping her from their campaign after she posted a 3-part video about how racism is a social structure which makes white people racist. Facebook deleted her post as it ‘breached its terms on hate speech’, yet Facebook fails to take down thousands of racist and transphobic posts and comments every day, including the trolling that she receives. L’Oréal, after Bergdorf publicly outed them, have apologetically hired her to be a part of their diversity and inclusion advisory board. It is a shame that this would never have happened had it not been for Bergdorf holding L’Oréal accountable for their hypocrisy.
Instagram are no better (seeing as they are owned by Facebook). Ahead of Pride weekend, Instagram changed its logo to rainbow colours and posted queer people’s stories showing their ‘solidarity’ for the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, when myself and hundreds of others reported @coreissuestrusttv’s account for their hate speech, they responded by telling me to mute or unfollow the account instead as it ‘likely doesn’t go against [their] community guidelines’. This so-called Christian account’s bio says they “focus on issues of homosexuality, challenging gender confusion and upholding science and conscience.” First of all, The Bible and Science contradict each other on most pages so they should probably educate themselves on some science first. Secondly, the only confusion or lack of conscience happening is theirs and that of their followers. They proudly post videos and pictures of ‘x-lesbians’, ‘x-LGBT supporters’, ‘x-trans people’, saying how they helped end their ‘identity crisis’ and gave them ‘the freedom to choose’, when really they have taken away their freedom and manipulated human nature by unhealthily and unnaturally brainwashing them. I could write pages about this homophobic and regressive page but that is for a different article. Instagram cannot claim to support queer people but not condone hate speech and homophobic propaganda.
Vogue have also faced fire from the amount of accounts of racism that co-workers experienced when working for Condé Nast. The same goes for Anthropologie (owned by Urban Outfitters), where ex-workers exposed their use of a code word that they would use when a black person entered the shop. The list goes on and it is unacceptable that these brands put on a face of solidarity and allyship whilst concentrating little to no energy into actually improving their standards unless when under fire by the public via the media. There are a number of good brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Adidas who have stopped advertising with Facebook over their incapacity to stop hate speech after Twitter succeeded on calling out Trump for his lies and racism. We need brands to be as transparent and supportive as they claim to be, to accept their mistakes instead of hiding them and to want to learn and improve as the battle for equality still has a long way to go.