BBN Report: In time for Fashion Week – The Debasing, Exploitation of Young Black Girls
(Originally published September 8, 2010. There were a series of updates related to this story. Please read below.)
This advertisement masked as a short film for a fashion line was commissioned and created by White men with no visible understanding of the real conditions in communities of abject poverty, and it has effectively turned a crisis facing Black girls into an opportunity to further degrade, demean and humiliate this vulnerable segment of America. This is not a debate or criticism of “artistic freedom” or a call for censorship. It is about accountability. It is our opinion that this wanton exploitation of underage Black girls is an affront to Black communities delivered with a smirk, wink and a nod.
We understand the probable strategy in creating and marketing this advertisement. The designers and filmmaker will get their 15 minutes of fame, increased website traffic and perhaps greater exposure during fashion week. But we are not sure how reputable, high-end retailers that stock this clothing line such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys gain by associating with this exploitation of underage, impoverished Black girls.
For answers, BBN reached out by email to the clothing designer who did not respond to our request asking how they believe the advertisement will help to sell the clothing to those who can afford it – a high-end consumer base that more than likely does not look like the young girls depicted in the Ad. BBN also contacted by telephone Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys to ask how, as stewards of their century-old brand, is the demeaning projection of underage Black girls in line with their marketing and promotion strategy? BBN spoke with a representative of Bergdorf Goodman’s public relations office who said she would call us back, and we also spoke with an assistant in Mark Lee’s office, CEO of Barneys, who said someone would call us back. We also left a voice mail message with Barney’s communications department. As of the filing of this story BBN has not heard from the designers, Bergdorf Goodman or Barney’s.
To be fair, below is a link to a greater list of other high-end retailers who seek to profit from this designer’s clothing line and who we consider complicit in the exploitation and degradation of underage Black girls.
Finally, BBN searched the designer’s website and did not find any models resembling the young girls wearing the exclusive, costly pieces in the advertisement.
BBN UPDATE: September 9, 2010
There is not much we can do about the fashion designer’s choice to hire a filmmaker to create the advertisement debasing Black girls. That is artistic freedom and creative license. How and why Black girls are fair game for debasements while others are protected is the basis for a sociological case study. But we believe the complicit parties in this designer’s debasement of Black girls are the outlets that sell his product. Those outlets may not have created the advertisement, but they certainly will benefit in profit by selling the designer’s product.
These high-end department stores may not be able to tell by the content of the advertisement that Black consumers spend $26.9 billion dollars on apparel and that 85% of the brand purchasing decisions by Black consumers are made by Black women. Perhaps that is something you can bring to their attention when you contact them.
Certainly, the names below are responsible stewards of their brand and will not take lightly the association with any designer or entity that debases underage girls. We imagine it is the same kind of guilt by association stewards of the brand Gillette had to think through before dropping golf legend Tiger Woods as a product endorser for his treatment of women earlier this year. Here is their contact information:
- Barneys, 212. 339.7300, - Neiman Marcus Group, Inc. (Bergdorf Goodman owned by Neiman Marcus), 214.743.7600 and - Nordstrom (read Nordstrom response below)
BBN UPDATE: September 15, 2010:
Nordstrom’s response to BBN’s inquiry: In a telephone call to BBN last Friday, a Nordstrom spokesperson said, “Nordstrom sides with BBN and finds the advertisement offensive and racist. Peter Nordstrom, our president, spoke with the designers and expressed his disappointment, but the designers view it as art.” When asked about a more forceful condemnation for the egregious offense the spokesperson said, “The retail partnership is an important one. We value our retail partnership with the designers and hope they will listen to us as a valued partner.”
Listen to Sharon Toomer’s interview with Errol Louis of WWRL Radio. Interview with Errol Louis
(BBN Editor’s Note: Nordstrom is the only retailer to respond to our inquiry – twice in less than a 24-hour time period. Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys have not responded to our inquiry).
S. Toomer for blackandbrownnews.com with additional research and reporting by Sean Allison. This story was brought to us by a BBN reader.