The luxury Italian fashion brand Gucci apologized on Wednesday after it was called out for a sweater that many said resembled blackface.
On Wednesday, people online took notice of a particular item in Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2018 collection, a black balaclava sweater with red detailing around the mouth. Unfortunately for Gucci, it wasn’t because they wanted to buy the $890 luxury knit top, but because the design was deeply offensive.
Before the sweater was removed from Gucci’s site, the red detailing on the sweater was described as “contrast trim around the mouth.” In combination with the black wool and the baklava design, many people saw the design as recalling or referencing the exaggerated red lips used in blackface.
Balaclava knit top by Gucci. Happy Black History Month y’all. pic.twitter.com/HA7sz7xtOQ
— Rashida Renée (@evilrashida) February 6, 2019
We have ONE month to celebrate the history of African Americans. Feb. 2019: Multiple accounts of politicians wearing blackface. And now news Gucci was selling a $890 blackface sweater. We are a nation desperately in need of diversity training. #gucci #BlackHistoryMonth pic.twitter.com/tHXEAP2pjN
— Michelle Singletary (@SingletaryM) February 7, 2019
In response to the backlash, Gucci quickly removed the sweater from both its online and physical stores and issued a public apology. “Gucci deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper,” said the statement on Twitter. “We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make. We are fully committed to increasing diversity throughout our organization and turning this incident into a powerful learning moment for the Gucci team and beyond.”
After the apology, people continued to criticize Gucci, saying that the fact that the offensive nature of the sweater was not caught before it hit stores shows a serious lack of diversity in the fashion brand’s employees.
If you hire more Black people and cultivate an environment where people on all levels of the company feel comfortable to speak up incidents like this will be avoided.
— Vanessa Veasley (@VanessaVeasley) February 7, 2019
So how many people did this get past before someone relaized it maybe wasn't a good idea. It's funny the companies are always apologizing after the decision makers think something so obviously wrong to the world is ok. Is it safe to say there are 0 American Black people staffed?
— Kay Mogul (@KayMogul) February 7, 2019
It’s 2019, when are we going to stop using stereotypes etc as marketing tactics?
As a Marketer/advertisier, there is a team responsible for checking stuff like this. But the problem is: if no one sees a problem with it on the team. @gucci you’re dead wrong. https://t.co/6V9w8X6KPB
— SAIDIMNEVERLACKINALWAYSPISTOLPACKINWITHTHEMAUTOMAT (@miamohill) February 6, 2019
The lesson of this “teaching moment” as Gucci called it, is not just to hire more Black people, although that is certainly a big part of it. It’s also to create a work environment where employees feel comfortable and secure bringing up issues of racism without fear of backlash, and with the knowledge that their concerns will be taken seriously.