“Don’t Profit From Our Tragedy”

Bstroy, a U.S.-based fashion brand, debuted a collection of “distressed” hoodies during a show that coincided with New York Fashion Week that featured the names of schools involved in deadly mass shootings, including “Stoneman Douglas,” “Sandy Hook,” “Virginia Tech,” and “Columbine.” The sweatshirts seemed to have been made with holes made by bullets. Photos of the clothing were posted to the Instagram account of one of their designers, Brick Owens. Not long after, the hoodies were criticized for their insensitivity and for the manner in which they appeared to exploit tragedies.

On his Instagram account, Owen said the sweatshirts demonstrate the “push and pull that creates the circular motion that is the cycle of life.” “Sometimes life can be painfully ironic,” he continued. “Like the irony of dying violently in a place you considered to be a safe, controlled environment, like school. We are reminded all the time of life’s fragility, shortness, and unpredictability yet we are also reminded of its infinite potential.”

One commenter on a photo of the Columbine sweatshirt said, “As a victim of Columbine, I am appalled. This is disgusting. You can draw awareness another way, but don’t you dare make money off of our tragedy.” On a photo of the Stoneman Douglas hoodie, one person commented, “My dead classmates dying should not be a f***ing fashion statement.” On Twitter, a spokesperson for the Vicky Soto Memorial Fund, established after teacher Victoria Soto was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, posted, “This is just absolutely horrific. A company is [making] light of our pain and other’s pain for fashion. Selling sweatshirts with our name and bullet holes. Unbelievable.”

This isn’t the first time a marketer has seemed to profit from tragedy. Urban Outfitters marketed a $129 sweatshirt that recalled the deadly 1970 shooting at Kent State University, and La Señorita Mexican Restaurants seemed to recall a 1978 mass suicide that took place in Guyana, South America. More recently, fashion brands have seemed to capitalize on racial issues by marketing goods that resemble black face make-up and nooses.

As of this writing the sweatshirts do not appear on Bstroy’s website. Controversy seems to be no stranger to fashion. Presumably brands such as Bstroy engage in these kinds of activities to gain attention, even if that attention is by no means favorable. In fact, seeking out bad press might be a way to boost a brand’s street credibility. As legendary circus promoter P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” What do moral lapses such as these say about our culture?

Thank you to #jmcawesome journalism major Emily McKenna for the tip.

Sources: CNN.com; papermag.com

Fashion Brands Capitalize on Blackface and Nooses

First it was Gucci who, amidst outrage over public officials who admitted to wearing blackface as part of costumes, chose to bring to market blackface decorator items (which Prada decided to sell) and blackface women’s sweaters. Now it’s Burberry using a noose as a fashion accessory on a “nautical-themed” hoodie. These are among the fashion brands that have decided to seize upon the newsworthiness of racial insensitivity, while demonstrating that they’re insensitive, too.

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Capitalizing on hot button social issues is something that the fashion industry has done with astonishing regularity: There has been a ”black woman chair” that appeared on Martin Luther King Day, and moccasins being sold in “nigger-brown.” It was philosopher George Santayana who famously said that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given previous missteps, some by well-known brands, why are companies seemingly determined to repeat history?


One obvious answer is to get attention. Pushing moral norms will certainly get you noticed. Irish writer Brendan Behan once observed “There is no such thing as bad publicity except if it’s your own obituary.” Perhaps companies such as Gucci and Burberry are abiding by that observation. Nevertheless, one must ask: Why do they seem to employ touchstones of distaste all in the name of publicity? And why do they continue to do it when others before them made the same mistakes? Perhaps all is fair in love and branding. And perhaps those responsible are insensitive to the point of being morally blind.

According to NBC News Riccardo Tisci, Burberry’s chief creative officer, apologized saying in part “While the design was inspired by a nautical theme, I realize that it was insensitive. It was never my intention to upset anyone […] I will make sure that this does not happen again.” A model who was in the show said that beyond the choice to use the noose in the first place, she was further disturbed when staff at the fashion show in which the hoodie appeared “briefly hung one from the ceiling (trying to figure out the knot) and were laughing about it in the dressing room.” The company has since pulled the hoodie from its line.