Fashion jumps on Black Lives Matter bandwagon

ZURICH • Fashion brands such as Gianni Versace Srl, Yves Saint Laurent SAS and Gucci have posted messages pledging solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement after a number of luxury boutiques suffered looting in recent days in top locations such as California’s Rodeo Drive and New York’s SoHo.

Gucci reposted a poem by writer Cleo Wade on Twitter and Instagram about how to end racism and bigotry, while Prada SpA uploaded a statement that it was outraged and saddened by the injustices facing the black community. French cosmetics giant L’Oreal SA posted “Speaking out is worth it” on its social media accounts. Swedish apparel chain Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) kept it simple with “Let’s change”.

The industry now faces a public-relations challenge in the US just as it suffers store shutdowns and weakened global demand caused by the pandemic. By voicing solidarity with the black community, brands are trying to gain credibility, despite the risk of appearing crass following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several of them are still trying to live down racial controversies they sparked in the past.

“It is imperative for these brands to be sensitive to cultural differences and respect each and everyone,” Luca Solca, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein & Co LLC wrote in an email. “Failure to do so, even involuntarily and by accident, exposes brands to severe consequences.”

H&M has shuttered 95 of about 600 stores in the US due to the unrest. That brings the global tally of shop closures to more than 1,300. The Covid-19 outbreak has already led to almost a third of H&M’s network shutting down. The company also said it’s donating half a million dollars to organisations such as Colour of Change and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Last year, Kering SA’s Gucci withdrew and apologised for a sweater resembling blackface images, and in 2018, Prada removed figurines from window displays after they were called out for a resemblance to racist caricatures. Kering said on Tuesday it’s making a donation to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and Campaign Zero, an organisation that’s trying to reduce police violence in the US.

Many chains shuttered down amid the protests. Adidas AG closed stores across the US after lootings were reported in its shops in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In addition to a post with the word “racism” crossed out, the German shoemaker tweeted rival Nike Inc’s “Don’t Do It” video against racism, and Nike responded with a like.

H&M had to close some stores in South Africa in 2018 amid protests against an ad that showed a black child modelling a hoodie with the text “coolest monkey in the jungle”.

“We also acknowledge our past mistakes and they have made us acutely aware of how much we still need to learn,” H&M CEO Helena Helmersson said in a statement released on Monday in response to the latest unrest. “As a company, we are growing, but we can and must do better.” — Bloomberg