Offensive fashion has always been a marketing wildcard with shock culture. “There is no such thing as bad publicity” denotes that any reference in the media will aid a brands cause, even if in the wrong light. Sometimes associated with the Greatest Showman, Phineas T. Barnum, prior to that Irish playwright Oscar Wilde expressed that “the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”
The suggestion that any publicity can do no harm is obviously open to question. In the age of social media, cultural and ethical insensitivity can spread like wildfire. Specialist crisis management PR companies are often called upon when retailers and fashion brands get it wrong.
Generation Alpha consumers are especially prone to influence from social media personalities and use word of mouth and social validity to decide what is en vogue. On point Fashion spreads fast, but so does negativity and brand damage. The younger customer has no issue on calling out what they see as inappropriate, promoting cancel culture and brands trending for the wrong reasons.
Social media has given a platform for mass protest, and the recent climate change protests have increased vitriol against the fast fashion industry. There is a cultural change in the way brands produce and market themselves, promoting sustainability and anti-slavery.
Household fashion brands have had recent PR disasters resulting in swift embarrassing recalls and apologies. These include Gucci, Prada, Burberry and Louis Vuitton. It’s doubtful that these designs get approved without some inclination they might offend. Prada, Katy Perry and Gucci have all withdrawn products after an outcry of blackface comparisons. Here are some other design of poor choices:
The Swedish retailer can be at best accused of poor judgement when their “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie was modelled by a black child.
The UK Fashion House showcased its nautical theme during London Fashion Week. Some felt it promoted suicide.
The Spanish fast-fashion chain is a repeat offender. A handbag design featured 4 swastikas. And a t-shirt bore the slogan “white is the new black”.