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Fashion fails evoke racist imagery

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Luxury fashion is all about breaking codes, creating a new, irresistible message that captivates consumers. But some of the globe’s top brands have raised eyebrows with designs that have racist connotations.

The latest instance of that was Italian fashion designer Gucci, which produced a black wool balaclava sweater with an oversized collar that pulls over the chin and nose. It includes a slit where the mouth is, ringed with what look like giant red lips. Its similarity to blackface prompted an instant backlash from the public and forced the company to apologise publicly late Wednesday.

And it’s not just the fashion labels. Adidas on Thursday apologised and announced it was removing a running shoe from its collection celebrating Black History Month. It did so after critics slammed the company on social media for including the all-white shoe in a collection Adidas said was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance.

Gucci also withdrew its offending garment from sale on websites and stores, and said the incident would be “a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.” But the question persists: how can fashion houses that thrive on detail miss such critical social cues? Prada similarly withdrew a monkey bag charm that recalled blackface in December, saying it “abhors racist imagery.” And Dolce & Gabbana issued a video apology after one of the designers made insulting remarks about the Chinese in a private chat discussing the questionable depiction of a Chinese model in a campaign.

“Luxury brands used to be able to get away with provocative and eccentric ads that push the boundaries of our society and culture in the name of being creative and cutting edge,” said Qing Wang, a professor of marketing at Warwick Business School.

“However, a long list of recent incidents have caused public outrage, suggesting that era is now gone or that luxury brands have lost touch with public sentiment. What used to be considered “creativity” has now turned into “bad taste” or even “racist,” he said.

He cited other fashion fails that evoked stereotypes, including Dolce & Gabbana’s “slave sandal” in its spring/summer 2016 collection and a recent Burberry campaign for the Chinese New Year that was compared to Asian horror films.

While many of these incidents have caused immediate social media backlashes, the longer-term impact will take time to measure, and will depend on the brands’ reaction and future sensitivity.

Dolce & Gabbana was forced to cancel its Shanghai runway show after the insulting remarks were publicised, top Asian influencers backed out of campaigns and Chinese websites dropped their line a warning sign from a region responsible for 30 per cent of all global luxury sales.

The blackface images have particular resonance in the United States at a time when the governor of Virginia and his attorney general have been caught up in a scandal over blackface incidents from their college days in the 1980s. The offensive depictions are reminiscent of travelling minstrels from the 19th Century, who would paint their faces black to portray African characters in a ridiculous and mocking fashion, spreading racial stereotypes along the way.

Italian sociologist Michele Sorice at Rome’s Luiss University says that the evocation of blackface by Italian fashion houses signals “a mixture of good faith, and ignorance.” He noted that Italian society still wasn’t fully aware of the racial charge in some words and images.

“I imagine that they don’t truly think they are racist,” Sorice said. “I think they didn’t have the instruments to understand that these images are archetypes that were used to contrast the concept of blackness and make them ridiculous. I think that many simply don’t know. It is a cultural issue.” Paolo Cillo, a marketing professor at Milan’s Bocconi University, said the designer’s intent may have been taken out of context and amplified, and she credited Gucci with acting swiftly to quell the controversy.

“I wouldn’t stigmatise fashion,” Cillo said, comparing fashion designer process to artistic pursuits like filmmaking, painting or music. “There are artists in the world of culture that did more outrageous things and no one ever said a thing. There is a perception that fashion is ephemeral, or commercial. But from my point of view, it is not. It reflects the times, like all other artistic forms.”

While the fashion world has been at the forefront of addressing sexual norms, Gucci has been redefining genderless dress codes under Alessandro Michele. It has lagged behind other industries in taking on social issues such as racial tolerance, climate change or women’s empowerment, according to Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at Pace University.

“It is not clear why this is,” Chiagouris said, “but the evidence clearly points to the fashion industry’s need… to catch up with the rest of the world.”

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, February 11th, 2019

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Social Justice

Consumer Group Wins First Round in Lawsuit Against Ben & Jerry’s

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A federal judge has ruled against Ben & Jerry’s and allowed a lawsuit alleging that the company doesn’t live up to its environmentally friendly messaging to move forward.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) filed suit in Washington in July arguing that the Vermont-based ice cream maker misled consumers to think its product is more environmental friendly than it really is, in violation of consumer protection laws. On Monday, Judge Neal Kravitz foiled Ben & Jerry’s efforts to get the case dismissed.

The OCA argued that while Ben & Jerry’s frames itself as an environmental leader, in reality, the company’s products include ingredients sourced from inhumane dairy farms and include traces of glyphosate, a herbicide.

Ben & Jerry’s, which is owned by Unilever, had argued that no reasonable customer would conclude that the company’s advertising about “happy cows” meant that none of the cows lived on ordinary farms.

Kravitz found that the allegations raised by the association were “sufficient to advance a plausible claim that consumers would be misled by Ben & Jerry’s labeling and marketing regarding the sourcing of its ingredients.”

“A reasonable consumer could plausibly interpret Ben & Jerry’s labeling and marketing as affirmatively (and inaccurately) communicating that the company’s ice cream products are sourced exclusively from Caring Dairies and/or other humane source,” he wrote.

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Social Justice

‘Everyday People Like It When We Fight for Everyday People’

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‘Everyday People Like It When We Fight for Everyday People’ aco

“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage. If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win,” the New York congresswoman wrote on Twitter

“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage. If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win,” the New York congresswoman wrote on Twitter

Bolstering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) recent remark that “everyday people like it when we fight for everyday people,” a new analysis of social media data published on Sunday found that the freshman congresswoman received more Twitter engagement over the past month than any other Democrat in Congress—and it wasn’t even close.

According to numbers from CrowdTangle compiled by Axios, Ocasio-Cortez, who was sworn in less than two weeks ago, had 11.8 million total interactions on Twitter—retweets plus likes—between Dec. 11 and Jan. 11. The congressional Democrat with the second most Twitter interactions was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 4.6 million.

“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Monday, explaining her messaging approach that has, in just a few months, driven previously obscure or marginalized solutions like the Green New Deal and a 70 percent top marginal tax rate into mainstream political discourse.

“When I meet everyday people, they are eager to learn more, ask great questions, and embrace nuance,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win.”

Based on CrowdTangle’s figures, below is a Twitter engagement ranking among the congressional Democrats included in the new analysis, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former President Barack Obama, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). For Harris, Sanders, and Warren, the figure is the combined number of interactions on their personal and official accounts.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.): 11.8 million
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.): 4.6 million
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): 2.6 million
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): 2.6 million
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): 2.4 million
  • Beto O’Rourke: 1.8 million
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.): 1.4 million 

In addition to far surpassing her Democratic colleagues in Twitter engagement, Ocasio-Cortez is also receiving dramatically more social media interaction than America’s largest corporate media outlets.

As Neal Rothschild of Axios put it, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is absolutely dominating the national conversation on Twitter, generating more interactions than the five biggest news organizations combined over the last 30 days.”

Bolstering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) recent remark that “everyday people like it when we fight for everyday people,” a new analysis of social media data published on Sunday found that the freshman congresswoman received more Twitter engagement over the past month than any other Democrat in Congress—and it wasn’t even close.

According to numbers from CrowdTangle compiled by Axios, Ocasio-Cortez, who was sworn in less than two weeks ago, had 11.8 million total interactions on Twitter—retweets plus likes—between Dec. 11 and Jan. 11. The congressional Democrat with the second most Twitter interactions was Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 4.6 million.

“I inherently reject the paternalistic idea that some subjects are too complex for everyday people to engage,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Monday, explaining her messaging approach that has, in just a few months, driven previously obscure or marginalized solutions like the Green New Deal and a 70 percent top marginal tax rate into mainstream political discourse.

“When I meet everyday people, they are eager to learn more, ask great questions, and embrace nuance,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “If we present compelling, solid info plus commonsense arguments, we can win.

Since Ocasio-Cortez burst onto the political scene last year with her astonishing primary upset of powerful Wall Street-friendly Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) last June, much analysis has been devoted to discovering why she has garnered such widespread appeal in such a short period of time.

While corporate Democrats have expressed confusion—and, in some cases, alarm—about the freshman congresswoman’s popularity, Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs argued on Monday that Ocasio-Cortez’s appeal lies in her straightforward and unabashed presentation of bold solutions that the public craves.

“She bluntly sticks up for progressive values, rather than timidly using conservative premises. She’s not always perfectly polished, but I feel as if she’s on my side and won’t back down, which is something millennial leftists really need right now,” Robinson wrote.

Lamenting the frequency with which politicians campaign on bold promises only to quickly backpedal once they take office, Robinson noted that Ocasio-Cortez “has been an inspiring exception to this. She made it clear that her loyalties weren’t with the Democratic leadership but with the protesters occupying the offices of the Democratic leadership.”

“My desperate, pleading hope is that instead of succumbing to the inevitable pressure from Congressional peers—moderate your rhetoric, ‘get serious,’ don’t criticize the party—she doubles down and keeps kicking ass,” Robinson concluded. “She’s already showing how we can successfully change the conversation: The Green New Deal, like Medicare for All, has gone from marginal to mainstream within a matter of months.”


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We Can’t Tackle the Migrant Crisis Without Fighting Climate Change

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Many Americans have rightfully been outraged at the inhumane conditions of migrant families detained at the border. Refugees have been packed tight into cages that don’t leave them room to lie down, denied basic amenities like showers and toothbrushes, and separated from their children.

Meanwhile, there was a record heatwave that gripped most of the United States. At face value, these issues may seem entirely unrelated. The reality is the crisis at the border is deeply connected to the climate crisis.

What the world’s scientists warned us about 30 years ago is emerging before our eyes. In Central America, prolonged and escalating droughts have choked the water supply and turned crops to dust. Famine, thirst, poverty and crime is creating a generation of climate refugees who uproot from their homes and loved ones. These refugees come to the United States, seeking refuge, stability and dignity.

Instead, they face guns, dogs and jails at our border. Make no mistake, this is what American climate policy looks like in the age of President Trump.

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