Offensive fashion’s shock culture has always been a marketing wildcard. The Greatest Showman himself, Phineas T. Barnum said: “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. He meant that any reference in the media will promotion, even if in the wrong light.
The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde expressed that “the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”
But the suggestion that any publicity is good is obviously open to debate. In the golden age of social media, cultural and ethical insensitivity can cause a rapid spread of distaste and negativity.
The younger customer has always been easily influenced by social media personalities and uses social media to validate what is en vogue. Negativity and brand damage spreads fast as Generation Alpha publically calls out what they see as inappropriate or distasteful. Cancel culture is a righteous wave that can engulf companies and hit that bottom line. There are even specialist crisis management PR companies to call upon when fashion brands get it disastrously wrong.
Social media is a platform for mass protest, and climate change protests have increased the spotlight on the fast fashion industry. Brands are forced to change the way they produce and market themselves, with sustainability and anti-slavery prominent.
Many well-known fashion brands have suffered PR disasters ending with the embarrassing withdrawal of products and heartfelt apologies. These include Prada, Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and the brands below. It is somewhat surprising that these designs are approved without a high-up executive realising that they might offend the general population. Indeed the designs of Prada, Katy Perry and Gucci have all had blackface comparisons resulting in a recall. Here are some other designs that have trended for the wrong reasons.
The Swedish retailer released a hoodie design with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle”, and then used images modelled by a black child. Poor judgement perhaps, but seemed to have missed the attention of many a decision-maker.
The UK Fashion House had a nautical theme during a recent London Fashion Week. With a high suicide-rate in the news, it was ill-timed at least.
A repeat offender at causing offensive with fashion designs. The Spanish fast-fashion chain has released a handbag design with 4 swastikas and a t-shirt design with the slogan that “white is the new black”.