Welcome to our column, "Hey, Quick Question," where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries. Enjoy!
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Fashion's quest to attain internet relevance has been reaching a fever pitch of late. Chanel tried to make its own (confusing) meme as a nod to Frank Ocean and Gucci leaned into the phenomenon hard with a series of #TFWGucci memes. But we'll take those well-intentioned (if unnecessary) examples any day over what Zara just did.
As Megan Fredette, a Chicago-based writer, first brought to the internet's attention on Twitter, the fast-fashion giant is currently selling a denim skirt that appears to be embroidered with Pepes, a.k.a. the frogs that began as innocuous illustrations and have since been claimed as symbols of the alt-right and white supremacists. Gross.
"My immediate thought was holy shit, they have no idea what they are doing here, do they?" said Fredette in a subsequent interview with Dazed. So if that's the case, and whoever designed this spring look is truly ignorant about Pepe the Frog's current offensive connotations, allow us to clear things up: Zara, this is bad.
Pepe was not initially created as a sign of hate (Matt Furie, the illustrator behind it, just wanted to create a chill frog character for his comic series in 2005). But in the years since — and especially during the 2016 presidential race — Pepe was co-opted by hate groups to perpetuate racist and anti-Semitic ideologies. The Anti-Defamation League officially designated Pepe as a hate symbol last September. "As the meme proliferated in online venues such as 4chan, 8chan and Reddit, which have many users who delight in creating racist memes and imagery, a subset of Pepe memes would come into existence that centered on racist, anti-Semitic or other bigoted themes," reads an explanation on the Anti-Defamation League's website.
The Anti-Defamation League also clarifies that Pepe isn't necessarily an inherently hateful symbol: "It is important to examine use of the meme only in context. The mere fact of posting a Pepe meme does not mean that someone is racist or white supremacist. However, if the meme itself is racist or anti-Semitic in nature, or if it appears in a context containing bigoted or offensive language or symbols, then it may have been used for hateful purposes." But the Pepe image as it stands in current internet culture is, without a doubt, linked to hate groups. And given Zara's past controversies, you'd think the company might want to put a little extra effort into avoiding any imagery that has even the potential to represent such causes.
As a reminder, Zara has been accused of selling anti-Semitic clothing on multiple occasions, including a handbag with swastikas on it and a "concentration camp" shirt. The retailer has also come under fire for unsafe labor practices, copying independent artists' designs, racial profiling in its stores and that one time a girl found a dead rat sewn into the lining of her coat. So in the scheme of things, perhaps this isn't so surprising. But that doesn't make it less upsetting.
So, hey, Zara, maybe don't choose that particular symbol to stitch all over a distressed denim skirt? Hate symbols aren't chic or groundbreaking for spring. Stick to florals, please and thank you.
Update, Tuesday April 18, 4:22 p.m.: Zara pulled the skirt in question from its website following the internet response, but has not made any official public statement on the matter.