Retailers, fashion brands struggle with racial insensitivity

|    Anne D’Innocenzo    |

NEW YORK (AP) — Retailers and top fashion brands like Gucci and Prada keep apologising for products that smack of racial insensitivity.

The big question is: Why does it keep happening?

Experts say many of these fashion companies live in a sort of bubble and lack the diversity in their staff that could vet their fashions. They also blame the increasing pressures facing the industry to push products from the design board to the stores and online in weeks rather than months without taking time to thoroughly review products.

“There is such pressure on speed that there is no time for consideration,” said Allen Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce, a marketing firm. “When you are moving this fast, there is no time for perspective.”

Just as quickly as mistakes are made, so too are they amplified over social media as shoppers take to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to voice complaints.

In the latest example, Katy Perry’s fashion line this week pulled two types of shoes — which featured protruding eyes, nose and red lips — that critics likened to blackface. The singer and company said they were saddened that it was being compared to blackface and had envisioned the designs to be a nod to “modern art and surrealism”.

Last week, Gucci removed a sweater off the market after complaints that the oversized collar designed to cover the face resembled blackface makeup. In a statement posted on Twitter, Gucci offered a mea culpa and said that it planned to turn the incident “into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond”.

The latest blunders followed apologies from Italian designer Prada, which said in December last year it was no longer selling a line of accessories that featured a character with brown skin and exaggerated red lips. And last year, Swedish retailer H&M pulled an ad that featured a black child donning a sweat shirt with the words “Coolest monkey in the jungle”.

Experts said that companies are not keeping up with the pace and complexity of global expansion.

“The fact is, all retailers live in a global village today, whether they realise it or not,” said Sonia Lapinsky, Managing Director in the retail practice at AlixPartners, a global consulting firm.