In the fashion industry, there appears to be a common theme of ignorance. Gucci appears to join the ranks of notable brands finding themselves in hot water, after releasing a sweater for retail sale that resembled blackface.
The sweater was all black and covered part of the model’s face, with an opening for the mouth outlined in red, resembling exaggerated lips.
Gucci isn’t alone in its ignorance. In the same month, Katy Perry’s fashion line sold a line of black loafers that clearly resembled blackface. The shoe was all black with big eyes, a triangular nose and big red lips. Burberry was also criticized for presenting a model on the runway with a hoodie on, and a noose hanging around their neck as a part of the sweatshirt.
Gucci is an Italian company and many may not be surprised by this scandal as it is widely known that Italy has a problem with race.
Italy’s racism dates as far back as the Middle Ages and onward. A popular figure that contributed to this racism was Cesare Lombroso. He was a scientific racist who lived during the 19th century in Italy and preached his many beliefs about white supremacy, and how whites were truly the superior race.
His ideas were made public and he said, “Only we whites have achieved the most perfect symmetry in the forms of the body … have procured liberty of thought…”
He also vocalized his belief in crime being connected to race and said that criminal tendencies among whites was the result of residual “blackness.” His ideology was spread throughout Europe by the end of the 19th century.
Because there has been an effort to be more inclusive in all areas of life, the root of the problem regarding Gucci is the lack of diversity it has in its workforce.
Film director Spike Lee made it clear in his response to the scandal that he will not wear Gucci or Prada products until these fashion companies start hiring more black designers.
It is integral to understand not just the United States’ history of racism but the history of racism throughout the world. The blatant racism we observe was just as important in the past as it is today, because as a society, we’ve regressed to an extent. We haven’t progressed because of the racist words and actions we see on the news regularly. The lack of diversity means a lack of understanding of what the blackface image represents.
The contention that works its way into all boycotts is whether it will be successful, because as a society, there is a habit of getting riled up when something like this happens but then forgetting about it a week later. No changes are made, and the cycle continues.
Anna Battigelli, an English professor said: “I think it’s really important for us to think about what we purchase and what’s behind it. And certainly when a company betrays our trust, or reveals this kind of insensitivity, I think it’s important to boycott.”
There is a certain disconnect specifically between these high-end fashion brands and the general public. Gucci’s products are priced from hundreds to thousands of dollars, so the customers are a small group of individuals who can genuinely afford their products.
Individuals who are not wealthy are not in touch with the world of high-end fashion brands.
In turn, this creates a community within these companies that is desensitized to the experience of others who are not of their economic and social status.
It seems that Gucci’s products are bought mostly for the sake of the brand—not because it means anything special other than the name.
American Eagle is an example of a clothing company that makes sure to include an array of different people, not just a group of people that all look alike. The models on the website include white women, people of color, disabled women, older women, hispanic women, plus-size women, etc.
People underestimate how important representation is, not only for yourself but for others as well. This conveys to the public that it is important for a fashion company to include diversity in the marketing because representation matters.
When customers see someone who looks like them modeling or creating clothing, they feel included, like they can achieve anything they want.
Although Gucci isn’t suffering monumentally, the company still has the choice to be empathetic and to create change.
That starts with having a diverse amount of designers and acknowledging that they have the responsibility to create an environment where individuals uplift each other instead of tearing each other down.