The settlement, announced Wednesday, comes after a number of major luxury brands — including Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana — have gotten backlash for racially insensitive products and advertising. Until now, legal experts say, brands have responded by apologizing and removing offending merchandise from their shelves. But this week’s settlement sets a new standard for how local and state governments might step in to hold businesses accountable.
“The measures Prada has committed to have far-reaching implications for the fashion industry as a whole,” Sapna Raj, a deputy commissioner at the New York City Commission on Human Rights, said in a statement.
Prada did not respond to requests for comment.
The agreement comes a year after Chinyere Ezie, a civil rights attorney in New York, filed a complaint with the city after seeing figurines that resembled blackface in a Prada window display. She said she was “shocked and dismayed” by the “Pradamalia” line, which featured $550 key chains, as well as clothing and clutches, emblazoned with monkey-like creatures with black faces and red lips.
She stopped to snap a few photos, which she posted to Facebook in December 2018. “History cannot continue to repeat itself,” she wrote on the social media site. Within hours, the post had gone viral. Prada apologized and said it would pull the offending merchandise from its shelves.
The monkey figurine from the collection evoked images of Sambo, a caricature that, over generations, has been used to mock and dehumanize black people, the commission said in a statement Wednesday. “The display of such racist iconography manifests as discrimination on the basis of race, suggesting that Black people are unwelcome.”
Prada is hardly the first major brand to get called out on racist imagery. Gucci last year came under fire for an $890 black turtleneck sweater with red lips that many likened to blackface. The company apologized and said it would “immediately” remove the product from its stores.
A year earlier, H&M faced widespread backlash for an ad that pictured a black child wearing a sweatshirt that said “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” Customers said they would boycott the fast-fashion brand, and musical artists the Weeknd and G-Eazy vowed to stop partnering with the company.
“Fashion companies have an accountability and a debt they owe to the markets where they sell their products,” Ezie said in a news conference Wednesday outside Prada’s SoHo store. “No longer will black consumers be silent when we’re being denigrated.”