Fashion’s mixed response to the Black Lives Matter protests

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Businesses have taken different approaches, ranging from direct donations to relevant charities and organisations, to messages of support via social media.

Others took part in this week’s “Blackout Tuesday” movement, which encouraged companies to pause social media marketing in favour of sharing learning materials and donation links to help the campaign against police brutality and systemic racism in the US.

In a short video campaign posted on Instagram last Friday, Nike adapted its famous slogan to read: “For once, don’t do it” – asking followers to not ignore the issue.

Adidas shared a graphic of the word racism struck through and later reposted Nike’s video with its own message: “Together we can move forward.”

This is not the first time Nike has taken a stance on issues of racism. Last year, NFL player Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem at an American football game in protest against police brutality and racial inequality, making national headlines. Nike renewed its endorsement deal with the player and faced a brief initial fall in share price.

Combined with a recent history of support for black athletes and diverse representation, Nike’s messages of support for the protests sparked by Floyd’s death have resulted in mostly positive feedback from social media users.

However, some brands have faced criticism for speaking out against the looting of stores, or for taking a stance when they have previously been embroiled in controversy over perceived cultural insensitivity.

Gucci posted messages of solidarity for the protests and announced it will make donations to the civil rights organisation NAACP, Campaign Zero and Your Rights Camp. On 4 June it will halt all operations in the US “for employees to have a day of mourning, honour the lives lost and recommit ourselves to being part of the solution”.

However, some members of the public found its Instagram post incongruous, pointing out that the luxury brand last year sold a “blackface” polo-neck jumper that featured cartoonish red lips – for which it later apologised, before hiring a diversity chief. 

Prada’s post expressing its outrage at the “injustice facing the black community” also failed to resonate. In 2018, the brand withdrew a line of monkey key chains and figurines that some felt resembled blackface. Prada has since created a diversity advisory board.

Meanwhile, Virgil Abloh, men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, was criticised for his now-rescinded statement condemning the looting and destruction of retail property. Abloh has since apologised for signalling “anything other than full solidarity with the movements against police violence, racism, and inequality”.

Other big names in the industry have issued statements to dismiss any concerns over damage to stores and stock.

Jide Zeitlin, chief executive of Tapestry, which owns Kate Spade and Coach, said in a personal letter posted to LinkedIn: “We can replace our windows and handbags, but we cannot bring back George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, and too many others. Each of these black lives matter.”

Marc Jacobs echoed these sentiments in a post regarding the vandalism to one of his stores, reiterating: “A life cannot be replaced.”

Swedish retail group H&M has temporarily closed 95 of its stores due to the protests and has donated $500,000 (£397,000) to the NAACP, Colour of Change and the legal aid non-profit initiative American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Others to make public donations include Copenhagen label Ganni, which has pledged to split €100,000 (£79,000) in donations between Black Lives Matter, NAACP and ACLUSinger Rihanna’s lingerie brand Fenty will donate to Color of Change and Movement for Black Lives. 

London-based brand A Cold Wall has donated £10,000 to Black Lives Matter and announced 10 grants worth £2,500 each for black-owned independent businesses in the UK.  

Protests have been ongoing in the UK this week, with more due to happen across London this weekend in Parliament Square and at the US Embassy. 

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