By Isabella Schneider
On Feb. 5, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) reached a settlement with Prada over their use of blackface imagery in their line of Pradamalia Figurines.
The incident with the Pradamalia figurines occurred in December 2018, when Chinyere Ezie, a civil rights lawyer, walked into a New York City Prada store and found the figurines resembled the blackface caricature monkey, Sambo.
Shortly after seeing this, Ezie took to Facebook to express her frustration, “I don’t make a lot of public posts, but right now I’m shaking with anger,” she stated.
Although Prada made a public apology, the CCHR still investigated the issue in order to reach a settlement to redeem Prada’s wrongdoings and prevent any future instances of racism.
One thing found during the investigation was that Prada headquarters had no black employees during the time of the incident. Within the settlement, Prada is mandated to report the demographic makeup of its employees a year after signing the agreement.
The settlement also requires Prada officials to go through racial equity, sensitivity training and hire a permanent diversity, inclusion officer to oversee and ensure products comply with CCHR laws. These actions are estimated to cost Prada millions of dollars.
Some are skeptical that these mandates will actually have any effect on Prada’s work.
“I can’t imagine they’d hire Black staff + give them any actual decision making power or equity?” tweeted Shelby Ivey Christie, a fashion and costume historian, and media manager for L’Oreal USA. “I’d imagine it would be to meet the terms of the agreement — the fact that the Human Rights Commission had too strong are you to get you to diversify, in the first place, is a red flag.”
Still, many have applauded the commission’s work, especially for its timing in correspondence with Black History Month. Human rights activists such as Ezie believe it to be a progressive step that can impact the fashion industry as a whole.
“Proud to announce this settlement with @Prada, just in time for Black History Month. #CallOutforGood #RaiseYourVoice,” Ezie tweeted.
However, the decision has set fashion executives on edge during fashion month, the four-week period where designers are showcasing their fall collections.
Executives worry that the government’s imposition on a foreign brand oversteps bounds and limits creative freedom. Still, people argue the gravity of the situation overpowers the discomfort felt within the fashion industry.
“It’s only a matter of time before the inclusion czar nixes creative content over a political sin,” the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal wrote.
People retweeted the Wall Street Journal article, sharing similar sentiments that the settlement was not justified.
“I must admit #NYC this seems an aggressive push into business,” tweeted Bob Phibbs, a retail influencer from New York. “A legal settlement threatens designers’ artistic expression.”
Overall, whether Prada’s usage of blackface imagery was intended to discriminate or not, the settlement is a wakeup call for the fashion industry to be more careful and caring about their work. We live in a progressive era, one where individuals won’t be bystanders to racial injustice.
“By engaging Prada with communities who have been historically excluded from the luxury fashion industry, today’s settlement is an important step towards achieving positive social change in New York City,” said J. Phillip Thompson, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives in the NYC Commission on Human Rights statement.