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May 1, 2020

Fashion Has A Solidarity Problem

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Many industries have been adapting their policies in a concerted effort to show solidarity, kindness, and inclusivity amidst the coronavirus pandemic; however, certain fashion brands, under the guise of “exclusivity” have displayed attitudes that reflect the racism and classism that plagues the industry.

On April 19, Trevor Fleming, an art director for the luxury athleisure brand Lululemon, posted a picture on his personal Instagram of a graphic tee that was inspired by the ongoing pandemic. The price of the shirt was listed as “only$60, but the true cost was way worse.

The shirt touted a simple design of what appeared to be a typical Chinese food takeout box and was accompanied by the following text — “bat fried rice” — alluding to the proposed origin of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. The rise of extreme anti-Asian racism has also been one of the destructive consequences that has arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lululemon released a statement announcing the termination of their art director as a result of his Instagram post and quickly removed blame from the brand.

This was not an isolated incident but a recent example of how the fashion industry continues to act problematically during the coronavirus outbreak. Companies need to be held accountable for the controversial actions of their senior personnel.

Lululemon is a brand often associated with the following image: Yoga moms and upper middle class, WASP-y, suburban high schools across the country. The store’s most popular product is a pair of lackluster leggings that cost $98. The appeal that this brand has for the aforementioned group is almost entirely based on its exclusive nature. Only the well-off can afford it and that makes it a “status symbol.”

Lululemon’s preppy peer, J. Crew, has also shown a lack of sensitivity to the most affected amidst this crisis. On April 27, J. Crew and its subsidiary Madewell announced their plan to donate a series of masks to New York hospitals. This may appear to be a sign of benevolence; however, it’s a way for them to cover their tracks.

These two brands were selling a pack of non-medical masks for around $20. First of all, the price restricts many people from purchasing it. Secondly, the mask does not provide much protection from the virus and is a way for the privileged to show off their seersucker face masks. One example that perfectly encapsulates this ignorance is the backlash received by influencer/designer Arielle Chanas — founder of the brand Something Navy — for her escape to the Hamptons from the City after testing positive for the virus in mid-March. Chanas completely disregarded the Center for Disease Control’s warning and risked exposing Long Island residents to the virus. Something Navy is a brand that has the same targeted audience as Lululemon and J. Crew.

Fashion is meant to be a form of art that allows us to express ourselves. Lately, the fashion industry has been encouraging the expression of the beliefs of a very specific group of people. Fashion is a representation of the materialistic tendencies of those in power, and has created even more victims in one of the darkest times in modern human history.

Sarah Bastos is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].