Ralph Lauren's Culture Stealing Chinos And The Respect We Deserve From Clothing Brands
... how does a trend as toxic as recycling the rich history of an entire people for profit end?
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First came our Black women, then came our Black colleges. And now, our Black Greek letters.
We’re only in the first month of a new decade and the colonizer community has proven that there’s no rest for the appropriators. The latest in a string of cultural thefts recently hit the Black Greek letter community like a brick as members of five of its nine organizations prepared to celebrate their respective founders’ days.
The perpetrator in question?
At the onset of the new year, the American fashion brand released a pair of 300€ luxury chinos, via its French website, dawning the letters of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Members of the fraternity were quick to go public about the fact that the product was neither cleared nor approved by their organization, thus prompting a groundswell of reactions from their fellow Divine Nine.
As many would imagine, the Black Greek community was dismayed to learn that a company as large as Ralph Lauren had allowed one of its products to go from conception to development without its designers exercising their due diligence and clearing the Greek symbols.
And while brand reps came forward to label the issue an oversight and announce that the chinos would be pulled from their inventory, it is clear that a much larger issue exists.
Over the last year, Black culture in all of its many forms has proven itself to be financially beneficial for almost everyone except its originators. Fashion brands such as Gucci and H&M have come under fire on multiple occasions for releasing racially tone-deaf products and backing it with equally insensitive advertising. And yet, despite the backlash that often ensues after a major fashion brand is called out for trivializing and monetizing the black experience, the trend continues.
The fashion industry continues to seek out trends and norms that are specific to the Black community and use them as reference points for products that, once released, more often than not strip the originators of their due credit.
But how does a trend as toxic as recycling the rich history of an entire people for profit end? Quite simply, by putting the power back into the hands of the people being used. For every Ralph Lauren, there is a fashion brand that opts to pour back into the very same communities that fuel their inspiration, as well as their profit margin.
In the Spring of 2019, Carl Jones and TJ Walker, founders of the classic streetwear brand Cross Colours rolled out a plan to empower talented people of color from HBCUs across the country. Since its launch in 1989, the brand has become known for using fashion to speak out against key issues such as political inequality, gang violence and youth empowerment. Big names including Rihanna, Cardi B, Bruno Mars and Drake are among the many stars who’ve worn Cross Colours in support of its message.
To date, Cross Colours has made its way onto the campuses of Howard University, Hampton University and Delaware State University; students are granted the opportunity to be hands-on in conceptualizing concepts for photo shoots, directing fashion shows, filming digital content and influencing the way in which the brand effectively reaches a new generation of consumers.
One of the latest gems to come from the students of Cross Colours’ HBCU mentorship program comes in the form of a digital short directed by Hampton University senior, Malcolm Lott. Lott is also a proud member of the Beta Gamma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. It’s Lott’s fraternity brothers who can be spotted in the video, showcasing their comradery on an on-campus basketball court. The digital short also features a number of cutaways to impressive aerial shots and performance clips.
In time, we may see a surge of fashion brands electing to shine a positive light on the communities and cultures that influence their product lines. But until then, we can be sure that Cross Colours has it covered.