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Retail Racism: 5 Brands You May Wish to Think Twice About Supporting

Posted on 0 6 m read

Featured Image: Jonnie Davis 
Article By: Samantha Matthews 

It is now 2019 and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to become a more conscious consumer; to spend my hard-earned dollars in places I can feel good about supporting. Like most ladies, I love retail therapy and occasionally splurging on clothes, shoes, jewelry, and other material items. However, several retail companies have found their ways onto my boycott list because of past downright racist practices.  Though I have never personally experienced any racism (that I know of) when I have shopped at any of these stores in the past, certain brands have recently been in the news more than once due to discrimination against people of color.

I do not feel comfortable about giving these brands my money anymore, and I feel the need to inform my fellow sisters about how these businesses have shown on one or more occasions, that their companies do not respect black people or other PoC as a whole.  Without further ado, here is a list of 5 brands that all PoC may wish to think twice about supporting.

1. Victoria’s Secret

Yes, ladies, I know VS is a one-stop-shop for lingerie, swimsuits, underwear, fragrances, and lotions. However, they have also been in the news recently for racist decisions that the company has made or endorsed.  Examples: In 2016, when a black shopper was accused of stealing from a VS store, the manager of the branch decided to kick two other black shoppers out of the store though they hadn’t been charged with anything. None of the white shoppers were removed. 

Though the general manager of Victoria’s Secret issued an apology and said, they had fired the offending manager in question, that indeed was not an isolated incident.  Their worst offense, I feel, was this story when a black woman was had the police called on her by a manager when she went to VS to return a bra that still had the security sensor left on it. She ended up being handcuffed, her things searched, and even after they found out that she had stolen nothing, VS STILL kicked her out and banned her from returning to the store. VS has shown time and time again that their corporate office and many of their employees do not treat shoppers of color with respect, and therefore I feel the company as a whole does not deserve to be supported by members of the black community.  But don’t worry, here are some great black-owned alternatives so we can still get our lingerie and swimsuit fix!

2. H&M

This Swedish company made headlines in 2018 for their UK advertisement of a little black boy wearing a hoodie that said “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle. ” Ever since then, I haven’t been
able to step foot into an H&M as the racism in that ad campaign is too blatant for me to forgive. What made it worse was there were a lot of people jumping to their defense. Claiming that H&M’s main headquarters is located in Northern Sweden in a town where there isn’t much diversity, and therefore the higher-ups in the company didn’t know that putting a shirt with such a message on a black model would be so offensive to PoC. 

I thought it was simply beyond belief that absolutely no one in their company could find anything wrong about releasing such an ad into the very diverse UK market. I would have thought that at least ONE H&M employee who had seen the ad before its release might have warned their colleagues about the backlash they would receive by putting a garment on a black boy that essentially called him a monkey. From this one incident, H&M showed that they are not very culturally aware of sensitive about issues involving PoC, and therefore I prefer to spend my money elsewhere, preferably on one of these black-owned alternatives to H&M.

3. Versace

Besides a few colognes I had bought for a male friend I had never shopped here much, but Italian-owned Versace is definitely among the list of brands that black people should think twice about supporting. After reading about how a Versace employee reported how Versace used code words to describe black people when they entered the store, these code words signifying that they should be watched very closely while in the shop. This employee called out a manager about this practice, asking if the manager knew that he was African-American. 

The manager was shocked to find out that his employee was black (apparently he was racially ambiguous enough to pass for another race) and the manager made the employee’s working life miserable for two weeks, denied his breaks, and then eventually firing him for not having “lived a luxury lifestyle.”  That infuriated me to the point where I will never buy another Versace product ever; as apparently the company is set up to racially profile shoppers of color, which the black community and I also should find completely outrageous and unacceptable. 

4. Zara

Spanish-owned Zara has seemed to take a page out of Versace’s playbook by assigning shoppers who they consider most likely to steal under the code name “special orders.”  If a customer is labeled a “special order,” their location is relayed to employees who are directed to follow them around the store. According to past employees of Zara who were surveyed and knew about the “special orders” code name, 43% of the employees said that was most commonly used with black customers.

The report also stated that employees of color working at Zara reported that “Black employees are more than twice as dissatisfied with their hours as white employees, darker-skinned employees were least likely to be promoted, and received harsher treatment from managers, lighter-skinned employees of color and white employees experienced better treatment within the company, with higher-status assignments, more work hours and a stronger likelihood of being promoted, and that Many of the employees interviewed felt there was favoritism within the company based on race.” Zara’s Asian sweatshop conditions have also come under scrutiny, and honestly for me, mistreating customers and employees of color locally and overseas is more than enough for me to wish to take my business elsewhere.  

5. American Apparel

This company has been scrutinized for years for their controversial ads that many people have described as sexist, degrading, and racist.  This company has used a woman in blackface as an ad and apparently, no one in the company saw anything wrong with this ad, released as a part of their campaign in 2007:

I understand that for many of us turning away from big retail isn’t easy, especially when even our black celebrities seem to love to drape themselves from head to toe in designer and brag about the fancy European labels they are wearing.  However, what the majority of them do not know is that many of these brands use black celebs for publicity, and yet when regular black people come to their stores to buy their goods we are racially profiled, given code names, watched like hawks, and often treated disrespectfully. 

The black community needs to place value into goods we are talented enough to produce. There are simply so many black-owned companies that would love to have the support of their sisters and brothers to grow their businesses.  In 2019, let’s all make more of a conscious effort to stop feeding the mouths that bite us and to start keeping our money in the pockets of people and companies that respect us and will support us right back. The black community has incredible buying power; let’s use our ability to raise and support our communities.

In case you are not familiar with blackface and why this American Apparel ad, in general, is so offensive, read more about it here. I will conclude by saying that any company that thinks it is perfectly acceptable to portray black people in such an offensive manner definitely shouldn’t be receiving any monetary support from anyone in the black community.

Do you still shop at these retailers? Why or why not? We would love to hear your comments below!


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