On Greed, Racist Tropes, and Sustainability

Fashion is about self-expression.

Precious, enjoying our  Graffiti bomber  co-designed with RAD Eyewear and Corey O. And expressing herself :)

Precious, enjoying our Graffiti bomber co-designed with RAD Eyewear and Corey O. And expressing herself :)

When I was 16, anorexic, and disconnected from my own introvertedness, loud clothing was how I hid in plain view. Bright jumpsuits, insane pattern-on-pattern pairings, mix-and-match socks: I did it all and it worked. People commented so much on my clothes, they forgot to even look at the person inside them. (Fortunately, I also have very few photos from that time, so I will spare you the 80s flashback).

The fact that even a distracted 16-year-old knows that style is how you hide and show yourself makes it so much harder for me to believe that grown-ass fashion-designers with scores of teams behind them can’t see the racist tropes they reproduce for what they are.

In short: are folks really that ignorant, and is that an excuse?

The CEO of Gucci — who promoted the sweater in one of the more recent blackface controversies — answers this question himself: yes, we are ignorant, and no, that’s not an excuse.

But while there might be different opinions on what blackface is and is not, there is hopefully less controversy around the notion that “ignorance” is too innocuous a word to use about the racism that permits stylist to use it again, and again, and again as a “statement.”

Ignorance is what might make someone (from another planet) want to dress up as a Black celebrity for Halloween and then realize what they thought of as accolade might be read as mocking.

Ignorance cannot justify or even explain the repeated use of caricatured and distorted “Black” traits, appropriation of Black culture and music, and belittling of the trauma of past and present violence against Black and brown people pretty much everywhere. When this happens repeatedly, and especially when this is the style — the self-expression — a brand decides to project into the world after hundreds of marketing meetings and thousands of dollars, then it is deliberate.

And in the context of capitalism, there is really only one reason for deliberate exploitation: greed.

But while business generally is about money (or at least exchange of valuables), it doesn’t have to be about greed or even profit. Sustainability — as opposed to growth — only really requires covering costs, including fair pricing for materials, and environmental impact off-set.

That is my ambition, and it is the reason we have slowed down product development and outreach this year at Kær. It is also why we are selling T-shirts in support of Kids in Need of Defense. And it is why we struggle, eternally, with work-life balance.

You know what we don’t struggle with? Joy.

And while it is impossible to remove ourselves from the structural racism that surrounds us, it’s not hard to avoid using racist tropes. In fact, there is no excuse not to.

So, shall we?