Weeks after Urban Outfitters weathered a storm of criticism for selling ”Navajo” items, such as flasks and panties, Forever 21 is the next major retailer to offend with an ethnic stereotype.
Forever 21 has not violated the copyright that the Navajo Nation holds for their name as Urban Outfitters did. But the necklaces depict archetypal “traditional” Native Americans and Asians, in the vein of what students at Ohio University protested with their “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign before Halloween. The students’ campaign raised awareness of culturally insensitive depictions of race and became a much-criticized meme.
The use of the outmoded term “Oriental” seems even more odd when juxtaposed with the fact that Forever 21 is founded and owned by Korean Americans. Do Wan and Jin Sook Chang opened their first store in Los Angeles in 1984, and the company has been a family business ever since.
“That is a reward that humbles me: the fact that immigrants coming to America, much like I did, can come into a Forever 21 and know that all of this was started by a simple Korean immigrant with a dream," Do Wan Chang told the LA Times.
It’s also not the first time the company has offended customers with a politically incorrect product: The company sold a shirt that bore the slogan “Allergic to Algebra” earlier this year. Forever 21 later pulled the shirt, as well as shirts say “Skool Sucks,” from its Web site.
Forever 21 has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Previously: A brief history of offensive merchandise