THE ERA OF CANCEL CULTURE: CAN WE REALLY LABEL A BRAND GOOD OR BAD?
2 ·24 · 2019
By Lauren Cameron
Over the past few months, more news stories than ever have inundated my timeline dissecting the ethos behind big brands I’ve been consuming for years. From luxury brands seen on the runway, like Burberry and Gucci, to ubiquitous names like Nike, there seems to be a constant conversation surrounding not just the clothes these companies are producing but rather the personable values behind them.
While I appreciate the constant accountability to which we’re holding these brands, it’s become exhausting to change around clothes I’m wearing based on the latest headline. Take the Burberry noose scandal, for example, or the disturbing black-face balaclava that made an appearance on Gucci’s runway last week – two massive brands proving to the world that they are willing to cross ethical boundaries in the name of fashion. Personally, as someone who constantly wears Nike, the juxtaposition of the headlines “Nike to Release Limited-Edition Colin Kaepernick 'Icon' Jersey” and “5 More Nike Executives Are Out Amid Inquiry Into Harassment Allegations” left me slightly shaken as I scrolled through the news the other day. As I read both articles and attempted to digest the conflicting news about this corporate giant, a question entered my head that I couldn’t seem to shake: Are companies inherently “good” or “bad”? Or are some companies so large that they can be both progressive and politically problematic at the same time?
It may not be so black and white.
On the surface, Nike successfully exudes an image of the ideal progressive and accepting company. From their launch of hijabs to their use of Colin Kaepernick as the face of their campaign, many Americans have become avid supporters of Nike’s supposedly liberal roots. However, with a little research about Nike’s internal operations, it becomes painfully clear that their progressive and liberal values are equivalent to the trend of fraternities accused of sexual assault donating to women’s help shelters: a facade to cover up their misogynistic interiors. And the actions of Nike along with a number of other corporate giants bring a concerning question into light: is progressive advertising just a way to exploit millennials’ wallets?
Let’s break down Nike first. Colin Kaepernick has been signed with Nike since 2011, but was recently thrown into the spotlight as the face of Nike’s advertising campaign in September of 2018. While supporting Kaepernick was immediately well-received by many liberal news sources, the choice to use Kaepernick was soon called “strategic” and a ploy to “hide abuse” within the company. And as much as I wish I could stand with Nike as they support Kaepernick, an athlete who I stand by myself, I find their internal scandals of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and unethical working conditions far too troubling to overlook.
Although Nike avidly denies sexual harassment and gender discrimination allegations, their pay inequality and inappropriate behavior by management have been exposed by multiple women who have come forward. Furthermore, despite their cultural inclusion through their recent athletic hijab launch, Nike has been called out for over 30 years for their poor working conditions at their garment factories in Asia. In light of the Kaepernick advertisements, there was even a meme circulating the internet that said, “Just Do It, for 23 cents an hour.”
So after uncovering all of this internal turmoil within Nike, I still struggled to answer this question about companies being inherently “good” or “bad.” Is Lululemon a body positive company or should I be concerned that their CEO recently stepped down after accusations of the company discriminating against plus-size shoppers? Should I be marching in downtown LA at the annual Woman’s March or protest the march in light of their founders’ accusations of Anti-Semitism? Are Lush products as environmentally-friendly as they advertise them to be or are they just another company guilty of greenwashing, hiding Parabens and animal products within their luxurious goods? Are companies with seemingly moral values simply leveraging this ethicality as a publicity strategy or do they really care about the causes they support?
As most things in life, it appears difficult to categorize companies as either good or bad, black or white. Conglomerates such as Nike have such a massive reach that it is possible that those who chose to design the hijab truly meant to make a statement in cultural acceptance and women’s equality, ignorant to the behavior of other executives as they discriminated against women in the workplace. Furthermore, taking a more liberal stance in the political world can be wildly beneficial to companies — a Vox study showed that more than 60% of millennials identify as Democrats, and millennials make up a sizable portion of modern consumers.
However frustrating it may be, there does not seem to be a clear answer as to what the average liberal consumer should do. It would be an incredibly daunting endeavor to only wear completely ethical clothing brands, and it is similarly troubling to boycott an entire brand based off a single headline. And while I am a firm believer of holding brands accountable for any ethical discrepancies, I don’t think that the positive aspects of these brands, such as Nike’s campaign with Kaepernick, should be discredited. So for the time being, I will continue to celebrate the progressive movements of brands while educating myself and others on their unethical or politically troubling decisions and backgrounds. But until many more big-name brands add more diversity to their boardrooms, eliminate exploitative production practices, and combat discrimination in their workplaces, it can be certain that completely ethical consumption isn’t realistic.