What Businesses Can Learn From Prada’s Racism Fiasco


Prada’s Racism Controversy – Here’s What Happened

Last week, Italian fashion giant Prada found itself in the middle of heated racism controversy over its new line of keychains. One of those designs resembled a monkey that was black in colour, with an exaggerated mouth. These ‘monkeys’ resembled the incredibly racist golliwog doll and the ‘blackface’ makeup used by white Americans in the early 20th century to caricature African-Americans and dehumanise them. When lawyer Chinyere Ezie saw them on display in Soho, New York, she was aghast. She went inside, examined and photographed the keychains in person and took to social media. The post went viral and a number of people slammed the brand and threatened a boycott. The result? An excuse (they’re fantasy figures that have been part of Prada’s ouevre!), an apology (deep regret) , the products getting pulled off the shelves and a promise to do better (we’re setting up a diversity committee!) 

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The Offensive Display. Photograph: Chinyere Ezie/Facebook

The Importance of Diversity in Creative Teams

The fact that these fantasy creatures made it to the shelves, without anyone as much as batting an eyelid, is reflective of the lack of diversity in Prada’s creative teams. If only they had had a different point of view in the room, they could’ve caught on what they missed. Creativity is all about novel and out of the box thinking. However, creativity is also heavily influenced by the environments the person grew up in and their own biases and prejudices. Having diversity in your creative teams doesn’t just lend itself to checks and balances but is necessary for true innovation.

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Virgil Abloh’s success is proof that fashion consumers want fresh perspectives and aren’t afraid of making socio-political statements with their clothing choices.

Customers Have Greater Power Than The Brands

Today’s customer, especially the millennial customer that every brand is out to charm, isn’t one to swallow whatever trends that brands put out. They decide what’s cool and what’s not. It’s also important to understand that this customer is woke. They aren’t afraid to make socio-political statements, they aren’t in awe of high-fashion brands and they aren’t going to spend their money on causes they don’t believe in. So brands – size no bar – cannot afford to be careless with their products anymore. 

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The Power of Social Media

Every big brand takedown in the recent past – whether it was Prada’s or Dolce & Gabbana’s show getting cancelled in Shanghai because of their racist and tone-deaf video ads that played into the ‘exotic east’ cliches – it was on social media. Social Media outrage travels swiftly. The speed at which  consequence follows offence is testimony to the weight that these platforms carry. Brands can no longer afford dismiss tweets and instagram comments as some random happening on the internet. This is how the millennial generation expresses themselves. And let’s not forget that their opinions control their spending.

In Conclusion

If your brand is inclusive, is cognisant of what the customer wants and sensitive to politics, race and gender; Congratulations friends, you and your business are going to do well. It’s almost 2019 – nobody wants to give money to uptight, tone-deaf ignoramus. Don’t be that guy. 

{Lavanya, who is the author of this article, is the manager, editor and errands boy at Vue45. If you’ve anything to say, do shoot her an email}


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