Zara – Your Timing Couldn’t Have Been Worse

“Dear Zara, White is not the new black”

White is the New Black

In light of the racially charged conversations our county is having about justice and prejudice, international brand Zara, headquartered in Spain, picked the wrong time to release their latest graphic tee (un)creatively conceptualizing the next “…is the new black.” The phrase ‘White is the new black’ emerged victorious and was printed on a slew of white t-shirts.

Yes, you read that right. This is indeed cringe-worthy. I am not sure how it made it all the way to production without a red flag being raised, let alone past someone in public relations! But nonetheless, the shirt was released (although, according to Huffington Post, it isn’t currently on their website) and sent social media into a tizzy. Of course, with good reason – that statement needs major explanation.

In the Right Context

In the right context, the phrase isn’t wrong. The color white has been seen on countless runways –it’s no longer taboo to wear after Labor Day. In fact, “winter” whites have been a refreshing and bright addition to an otherwise dreary season. Monochromatic hues punched up the runway for Spring-Summer 2013 collections. Silhouettes in white lace, embroidered details, and sheer delicate fabrics emerged as shining stars for designers like Bottega Veneta, Valentino and Vera Wang. White reemerged FTW!

So yes, is one context, white has become more of a staple color than ever before. But there is no need to print this on a t-shirt without the proper context to even make this semi-appropriate. While I am a fan of a good graphic tee, this is unfathomable in the U.S. The way we think about colorism among black people and racism in this country makes it an easy target for racial divide and uproar. Donald Sterling’s comments about black people, black hoodies and the black men in them, #iftheygunnedmedown and Lupita Nyong’o’s beautiful brown skin have all been topics in 2014 alone.

A Fashion Wake Up Call

Somehow race and the fashion industry has sort of been the elephant in the room – realizing it’s there, but failing to publicly address that the industry needs continuous inclusion in the conversation about race. The fact is, we have been talking about a lack of diversity in the fashion industry for years and years.

There has been some progress, like the new Balmain ads featuring three iconic women in the industry – Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Rihanna all under the creative direction of Olivier Rousting, the brand’s creative director (who happens to be black). But one campaign is not nearly enough. And things like this t-shirt, as innocent as it may seem, remind us of this fact.

The fashion industry still has lots of work to do. White is not the new black. And pinning these two colors against each other, even for the sake of fashion, has real world implications. It reflects an ideology that black is evil or a thing of the past, no longer relevant, and white reigns supreme as the trend color du jour. Today, with Ferguson and our nation in an uproar, we can’t continue to use the excuse that we “just didn’t know.” Let’s do better, be better.