A customer backlash has caused luxury fashion retailer Prada to withdraw a product line that was criticised as being racist, but not everyone agrees that it had anything to apologise for.
In a statement posted to its Facebook page, dated 17 December, Prada said that it is “committed to creating products that celebrate the diverse fashion and beauty of cultures around the world” after some customers complained that a monkey figurine it produced resembled a racist caricature.
“We would like to convey our deep regret and sincere apologies for the Pradamalia products that were offensive. They have been removed from the market and will not be sold,” it said.
“The resemblance of the products to blackface was by no means intentional, but we recognise that this does not excuse the damage they have caused.
“Going forward, we pledge to improve our diversity training and will immediately form an Advisory Council to guide our efforts on diversity, inclusion and culture. We will also examine the processes that led to such a product reaching the market in the first place.”
The statement continued: “Everyone at our company, from the creative directors to the store managers, works hard to exceed our customers’ expectations every day — which makes this reflection on our company all the more hurtful.
“Importantly, we have listened to the public and have decided to donate proceeds from these products to a New York-based organisation committed to fighting for racial justice, which is a value that we strongly believe in.”
Prada concluded by stating: “We will learn from this and we will do better.”
Two days earlier, the company had tried to downplay the controversy, posting on 15 December that it “abhors racist imagery” and that the fantasy bracelet charms were “imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world”.
“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 the characters in question from display and circulation,” it said.
That initial statement had been met with some intense criticism from consumers, which was repeatedly labelled a “non-apology”, leading to the more detailed subsequent statement.
“Your Pradamalia just *happens* to look EXACTLY like Sambo and other Jim Crow era racist caricatures? Really?… Your non-apology is tone-deaf and, frankly, insulting,” wrote one Facebook user.
“No, you don’t hate racism. You hate being called out and potentially losing money. This is a weak non-apology. Nothing here shows that you think it’s wrong or regret the way you hurt people,” said another.
Others lamented the statement amounted to a “nicely worded PR response”, but that the issue was symptomatic of a lack of diversity among the product developers and company decision makers.
Not all of the comments were negative, however, with many showing support for the company.
“You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t! If you’ll start to adjust your creativity based on someone’s ridiculous comments — you won’t last long,” one person wrote.
“Really??? How is everything offensive now? Who looks at something and automatically ties it to something negative?!?,” said a second.
And another: “I must say that I was shocked to read this article as I don’t see anything ethnically sensitive or racially disturbing here. I see cute little monkeys.”
Others suggested that they would like to purchase the now defunct products.
It is not the first time a major retailer has attracted claims of racist products. In January 2018, H&M issued an apology and undertook to change its processes after advertising a hoodie worn by a young black child in South Africa with the slogan “Coolest monkey in the jungle”.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.