This “controversy” is so stupid, so face-palmy… why bother?! Except, there is the matter of profit vs. responsibility and Zazzle is really trying it both ways. Get behind me, fashion gods. Not today, Zazzle. Not today. An e-retailer specializing in customized prints of the, you know … my other ride is a unicorn, keep calm and knit on, let’s be mermaids … variety on thousands of products promoted a line of black empowerment imagery fitted on white models. Oh no yes they did. Here is why-how it matters. Beyond hashtags.
Sure, it’s algorithm-assigned stock photos, randomized generic dress-up. Why is generic = white?! The problem is systemic as I write in my stylizing bronzing vs. blackface piece. Beauty vlogger Jackie Aina first called out Zazzle and further user research discovered one black model in Zazzle’s database. For 1000s of products and “countless” designs. One. At the racist heart of appropriation is an economic power/profit motive. Ask Mercy, the Nigerian refugee who “inspired” France to sing a song. Whiteness cares about non-white narratives as long as it gets to be the narrator. Zazzlegate exposes the trick in an absurdist way. Oops, we’ll do it again.
It’d be easy to dismiss this as an oopsie. Zazzle’s standardized non-apology assures it is “committed to diversity and are working on increasing the diversity….” Yawn. However, Zazzle is not an innocent cultural bystander. A Google-cash start-up, it’s been lauded as one of the “Hottest Silicon Valley Companies” and proclaimed “best business model” by TechCrunch. Currently, Zazzle is a defendant in a historic lawsuit that sets copyright non-infringement precedent for third-party manufacturers. Meaning, they are not liable for what they print?! Earlier this spring, its executives pushed to position the company as a leader in the “analog-to-digital transformation underway in the textiles industry” and an e-commerce pioneer taking “DIY to the next level.” With greater market share comes greater (ir)responsibility. If Zazzle is leading the future of fashion tech, it’d be great if the future wasn’t preset on white supremacy. How to upgrade that best business model to better?!
If even the American alt-right #WalkAway “movement” can find plenty of models of color for its stock photo propaganda, Zazzle can and should do better by its quirky, whimsy-loving, cuteness-overload customer base. Prove That Fash-Tech Magic.