WAKANDA STRATEGY IS THIS? ON FOREVER 21’S LATEST RETAIL FAUX-PAS

Forever 21 faced backlash almost immediately on social media after the release of a photo of a white model wearing a “Black Panther” sweater with the movie’s famous phrase “Wakanda Forever” on the front.

Only the highest grossing solo superhero movie ever and one of the most historically poignant films of all time, Marvel’s Black Panther is undoubtedly of monumental significance for black America and by extension, Africa.  Most of the world is still reliving and re-enacting memories from the film as it is now recognized as a vital addition to Black pop culture. So it is quite understandable that when popular retail brand Forever 21 decided to use a white model to sell a “Wakanda Forever” sweater, there was widespread outrage. Ever since the release of Black Panther, the merchandising and branding have practically culminated into a mini-industry. Action figures, costumes and other paraphernalia still being marketed and sold today have proven Black Panther is a lucrative venture indeed. Based on the film’s staggering resume, it is safe to assume that such merchandise sells itself; people only have to see it well-made and well-intentioned to be able to make the connection to their favorite moments or characters and make a purchase. Forever 21 unfortunately, did not show any of that foresight as people not only criticized the choice of the model but the sweater design, calling it “ugly”.

 

Following a huge outcry on Twitter with the rants of a widely disappointed audience,  Forever 21 responded to the criticism the sweatshirt and model have received.

“Forever 21 takes feedback on our products and marketing extremely seriously. We celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities and apologize if the photo in question was offensive in any way.”

Forever 21 took the image down and later showed the sweater on display on its own, without a model wearing it.  It certainly would have been more agreeable if they had featured a Black model wearing the sweater considering that the fast fashion company has borne the brunt of such misappropriation before with another popular Black movie “Straight Outta Compton”.  Also using white models, the shirts read “Ice Cube,” “City Of Compton” and “N.W.A.: The World’s Most Dangerous Group.” Following this string of offenses, is Forever 21 intentionally sarcastic or just negligent?

Some other people are also of the opinion that Forever 21 were not wrong to use a white model, pointing out that movie in question was a Marvel movie based on a comic written by white men and should promote no bias in how themes from the movie are represented and repurposed. What matters they insist, is that black and white superheroes can co-exist and be equally recognized.

While that may be true Forever 21 did not particularly show any references to the concept they were trying to promote; not in the product photos or the product design and that says a lot. Although the company alleges that the sweater is an officially licensed Marvel product, the marketing scheme does not show an appreciation for or a recognition of the prevalent themes as portrayed by the movie, color regardless. Following various shoddy happenings with marketing, presentation, and appropriation from several fashion establishments, this streak of errors is becoming an alarming trend. Is fashion losing its hold on the acceptable societal ideals or are we simply catching them at a bad time? However profound, apologies won’t cut it; what is required is a more thorough and committed devotion to building better fashion values.  Thankfully, most people stay at the top of their awareness game, calling to question anything that does not currently serve in a positive way but clearly if the propagators, the industry leaders are in constant need of redress, then what exactly needs to change?

Abiodun Odusola
abiodunodusola@ymail.com
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