The backlash directed at jewelry brand Adornia mimics that faced by Pepsi after its Kendall Jenner ad was accused of trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement; takes place in wider cultural appropriation debate
Don’t mess with social justice.
New York-based jewelry label Adornia released a $44 lariat necklace with “Me Too” branding this week and was promptly pilloried by the internet. The brand was accused of attempting to profit from a movement created a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke to encourage women of color to speak out about sexual abuse. It was most recently popularized in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal by actress Alyssa Milano as a hashtag for survivors to share experiences of being sexually harassed.
Beauty magazine Allure for instance, called Adornia’s move “truly misguided right from the outset.” (Adornia says it donates 10% of all profits to charity—other small retailers like those operating on the Etsy platform have also flagged similarly branded shirts.) The Condé Nast title, which has exhibited a left-leaning streak since the election of Donald Trump, added that the brand “wasted no time attempting to mix capitalism and activism.” Others were less kind. “I want them to be publicly shamed for every part of this,” wrote on Reddit commenter, who accused them of trying to make a “quick buck.”
“In American culture, we are fundamentally consumerist,” says Susan Scafidi, academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University. “One generation’s war anthem is an orange juice commercial for the next. But what is most offensive is that a deeply felt, long overdue emanation of painful stories has been commercialized very quickly.”
Since the backlash emerged, Adornia has said it would be donating 100% of profits from the Me Too accessory’s sale to an anti-rape and incest charity. “Because my intentions are not to capitalize on other people’s pain, I wanted to clear up any misconception and raised [the donation] to 100%,” Moran Amir, Adornia’s founder, tells Moneyish.
100% of profits go to RAINN @rainn01, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization ✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾 #metoo #lariatnecklace At Adornia we believe that wearing our emotions on the outside help us garner the strength to overcome daily obstacles, such as sexual harassment and abuse. Together we stand taller and stronger 👭👭👭 (shop link in profile, gold silver and rose)
“I am a small female artisan, not some greedy capitalist. It is sad that people want to paint me and my company that way,” she says, adding that she too is a “victim’ of sexual harassment who created the necklace for herself.
Fashion, of course, has a long history of treading the line between capitalism and activism. “It’s a way that people message and express themselves without having to say a word,” says Scafidi, author of “Who owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law.” Some have thrived off it: witness the popularity of Dior’s “We Should All Be Feminists” t-shirts earlier this year, or how warmly Prabal Gurung’s “Nevertheless She Persisted” and “The Future is Female” shirts were received.
But others have found navigating the minefield tricky. Pepsi was widely panned earlier this year for an ad that starred Kendall Jenner making friends with a police officer at a protest over a Pepsi. The soft drinks maker promptly pulled the commercial, which some thought was an attempt to make money from the Black Lives Matter movement, though there is some evidence millennials actually liked the ad.
In this case, the Me Too necklace seems to have come too quickly and touched on an especially personal subject. “In the fast moving world of the internet, it can be difficult to achieve consensus on what is and isn’t appropriate,” says Scafidi.
The brouhaha around #MeToo also carries with it racial tinges. Some observers have pointed out that Milano, a white woman, was widely attributed with authorship of a campaign that was actually the brainchild of an African-American activist. Milano has subsequently credited Burke on social media and the Harlem activist says that while #MeToo wasn’t intended as a viral, ephemeral campaign, she “salute[s]” its effect.
Burke didn’t respond to a request for comment, so her thoughts on the commercialization of her phrase aren’t known. “Fashion can play a positive role in social movements or simply be consumerist exploitation,” says Scafidi. “Questions of appropriation and who the source originally is definitely complicates the equation.”
© 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved