While Pride March was held on the weekend of June 29 in Paris and closing “Pride Month », we have noticed a multiplication of brands celebrating Pride with special capsule collections or products stamped with the colors of the LGBTQ+ flag.
Thus, beyond the “Pride” collection of Ralph Lauren polo shirts we were talking about in a previous article, we can mention the collaboration between Helmut Lang and the Artforum magazine, and their limited edition collection of t-shirts and hoodies celebrating “Pride Month 2019 “.
Source : Numero
Helmut Lang x Artforum – 2019
For its part, Michael Kors celebrates the 50 years of Pride with an exclusive capsule collection called “Rainbow”. These emblematic colors are also found on more than thirty Converse products, on Nike socks and sneakers, Adidas insoles, and even on IKEA shopping bags.
Should we see in this multiplication of “celebration” of Pride Month an encouraging evolution of the commitment of brands towards the LGBTQ+ cause or a simple and lucrative “pinkwashing”? Or is it be a bit of both?
Source : ELLE
What is “pinkwashing”? This Anglicism designates brands commercial strategy aiming to position themselves publicly as supporting LGBTQ+ struggles, to draw a financial profit or to create a better image and reputation… We can then ask ourselves here the question of the true commitment of these brands: are the products manufactured in countries where homosexuality is still criminalized? Where are the profits going? How do these companies treat their LGBTQ+ employees?
At the 2018 Paris Pride, the collective “Irrécupérables” denounced in a statement this phenomenon: “We refuse that Pride became commercial spaces where there is profit-seeking for neo-liberal firms with often dubious fiscal, wage and trade practices, trampling our rights for their profit while practicing « diversity management » and the « inclusion speech ».
Source : Irrecuperables
How to determine if a company is « pinkwashing »?
First, we can look at their use of the profits generated by the sale of these “Pride” collections. Are they used to support the struggle for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community?
For example, all the benefits of the sells of the special t-shirt from Michael Kors’ capsule collection #MKGO Rainbow Pride are fully donated to God’s Love We Deliver, a non-profit organization that helps people with AIDS by providing and distributing more than 1.8 million meals each year in New York City.
Artforum x Helmut Lang have declared to donate some part of their benefits to The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York, welcoming, helping and caring for the LGBTQ + community. Producing a “Pride” collection every year since 2014, Converse also donates some of the profits to associations, including the It Gets Better Project, which shares testimonials from the LGBTQ+ community on its Youtube channel.
Converse x Pride 2019
If we look at the case of the brand Nike, we see that it celebrates the LGBTQ+ community every year with its “BETRUE” collection since 2012. On their website, there are strong numbers: the BETRUE 2019 Nike collection donates its profits to more of 20 different associations and the brand has donated 3.6 million dollars for the LGBTQ+ cause since 2012.
But these positive numbers can mask a more complex reality. In 2018, Nike’s global sales figure reached an amount of about $ 36 billion, which puts into perspective the importance of the $ 3.6 million donated since 2012.
Last year, the BETRUE collection was heavily criticized for using the pink triangle. This political symbol, originally identifying LGBT individuals during the Second World War, was then used in the 70s by pro-gay activists and adopted later by Act Up in their memorable campaign of the 80s, “Silence = Death”. Act Up New York denounced this appropriation by explaining on Twitter that: « corporations do not have the authority to reclaim queer resistance imagery, only the community can » . The association went on to say: « We do not say that we « own » the symbol, we say that companies should not make profits on the lives of queer people without sharing these profits with them. Levi’s gave us all of their jackets “Silence = Death ” so that we could sell them and make our own profit ».
Then, another indicator of pinkwashing is the observation of the duration of this « celebration » of the LGBTQ+ community: does it continue when June ends? What happens to unsold products after the end of the month?
Vox magazine has contacted this year more than twenty major brands to study the longevity of their “commitment”. If most Nike’s sneakers are already sold out, Asos has for example chosen to leave on sale on its website its collection Asos x GLAAD (association denouncing discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the media) until all products are sold.
H&M is also trying to build a long-term initiative by stating that the Pride Collection (of which 10% of the proceeds go to the United Nations Free & Equal campaign) will still be on sale with the fall line. Of all the brands surveyed, only one (Happy Socks) said that its Pride Collection was part of its permanent collection.
Finally, the internal functioning of the company is an important indicator. Is there discrimination in the hiring process, or a sufficient representativeness in the company? Do LGBTQ+ people are asked to participate in the design of these Pride collections? Are they protected, do they have equal rights to health and benefits, insurance?
The Levi’s brand (a community ally for more than 30 years) was the first Fortune 500 company to offer equal access to compensation for same-sex partners in 1992.
Levi’s x Pride – 2019
The manufacturing conditions of these Pride products are obviously a key factor too: the rainbow flag patches become a bit hypocritical if they are manufactured in countries where LGBTQ+ people need to keep their identities hidden for their safety.
The support towards the community must be consistent: in 2018, Adidas was criticized for selling Pride merchandising while the brand was sponsoring at the same time the World cup in Russia, a country whose laws have made the event dangerous for fans and LGBTQ+ and athletes.
Although many brands seems to show superficial commitment rather than true support, the commercial appropriation of LGBTQ + struggles has nevertheless significant positive impacts: greater visibility for the community and more financial resources allocated to the fight for equal rights. We are then let to reflect on the relative de-politicization of the movement caused by this intensive pinkwashing. This vast commercial strategy diverts the attention of the still existing violence and discrimination that LGBTQ+ people face here and around the world.
We thus observe the gap remaining between the temporary « celebration » of a community and the genuine « support » that can be brought to it. Pride remains more than just a market share to conquer.