Prada pulls products after racist accusation, highlights key issue for fashion

Prada has become the latest luxury brand to fall foul of racism accusations after an animal charm with a dark face and large red lips was seen as being uncomfortably similar to racist blackface caricatures of the past. 


Chinyere Ezie


The character was created as part of the Pradamalia collection and has been around for some weeks, but the furore started after the blackface similarity was highlighted by Chinyere Ezie, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

She had just returned from a trip to Washington's National Museum of African American History and Culture and saw an instant similarity to the blackface imagery she saw at the museum. She shared imagery of the 19th century blackface character Sambo and of Prada’s store windows in a Facebook post to highlight the similarity and the reaction accelerated from there.

A host of negative comments saw Prada moving quickly to pull the charm and any items that featured the character, which included a variety of accessory and apparel pieces.

While the racism was clearly not deliberate, Prada’s fast reaction highlights the damage it knows that accusations of tone deaf racism can do to a brand, especially following what was perceived to be an inadequate reaction by Dolce & Gabbana after its own racism issue in recent weeks. 

The D&G founders’ slow reaction damaged the brand’s image in China and it’s still unclear just how it will be able to bounce back from this.

Back with Prada, in a statement addressing the issue, the company said: “The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface. Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. In this interest, we will withdraw all of the characters in question from display and circulation.”

It underlines the on-going problem that fashion, with its constant search for newness, has in an era when any hint of racism, cultural appropriation or general lack of sensitivity can be jumped on, shared and can go viral in hours. As mentioned, Dolce & Gabbana is still reeling from this, and both H&M and Gap have been vilified after unintentionally racist marketing made headlines, which showed the issue can impact businesses operating at all price levels.

The fact is that in a fashion sector that’s targeting shoppers globally, and in a world where consumers want the brands they buy to be seen to be doing good rather than upsetting people, brands need to be much more aware. 

The days when ‘Navajo’ or ‘Maasai’ were regularly appropriated for fashion collections, when all-white runways passed without comment and when even making-up white models to look black in glossy magazines or on runways was seen as cool is long gone. The same awareness needs to be applied to something as seemingly innocuous as a bag charm.

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