More than 26 months after Prada faced a backlash for featuring figurines and keychains that some said evoked blackface and racist imagery, Prada USA has reached a settlement with the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
The Italian company said in a statement Wednesday, “At the Prada Group, we are committed to creating products that celebrate the diverse fashion and beauty of cultures around the world. Diversity and inclusion represents one of the fundamental facets of social sustainability, and we, as a group, feel a strong responsibility to improve it in every aspect of our daily work. We are a global company comprised of people of various nationalities and different cultures and lifestyles, and our employees worldwide represent over 100 nationalities in 40 countries.”
Prada said it was “strongly committed” to diversity and inclusion, emphasizing the creation last year of an advisory council to that end, “engaging the best and brightest minds,” including longtime collaborators Ava DuVernay and Theaster Gates, “that will help us bring more voices into our processes, projects and products.”
Other members of the council include Mariarosa Cutillo, an accomplished humanitarian and chief of strategic partnerships at The United Nations Population Fund; Sarah Lewis, a Harvard University associate professor of African and African-American Studies and author, and Dr. Joyce F. Brown, president of the Fashion Institute of Technology and Prada’s fashion consultant on the council.
In December 2018, Prada faced a firestorm after displaying and selling monkey-like figurines that some felt evoked blackface and racist imagery. The products were part of the company’s “Pradamalia” merchandise. The social media firestorm started after civil rights lawyer Chinyere Ezie criticized the company and described the figurines as “racist denigrating #blackface imagery” and “Sambo-like imagery.” Ezie noted at that time that she had recently returned from the National Museum of African-American History & Culture Museum in Washington, D.C., where she had seen an exhibition that featured blackface.
In response to the backlash, Prada issued a letter of apology to Ezie, vowing to improve its diversity training and form an Advisory Council to guide its diversity, inclusion and culture efforts. The company also said it would examine the processes that led to such a product reaching the market in the first place, based on the letter seen by WWD.
The settlement calls for Prada to invest in restorative justice efforts to combat anti-black racism, and promote diversity and inclusion in Prada’s business activities, advertising and products, according to press material provided by a spokeswoman for the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Terms of the agreement also include ensuring that employees in New York and Milan receive racial equity training, create a scholarship program for historically underrepresented people in fashion, and maintain Prada’s Diversity and Inclusion Council with at least three to five members for six years or longer.
“The Prada Group has already commenced and is committed to providing comprehensive diversity and inclusion training to all its employees,” continued the company. “We are also partnering with universities, organizations and the United Nations to implement scholarship and internship programs that provide opportunities for under-represented groups in the fashion industry. We share the New York City Commission on Human Rights’ commitment to ensuring that diverse perspectives are represented and respected, and we are pleased that our diversity and inclusion initiatives are aligned with their vision for a more equitable, inclusive industry. With this momentum toward creating meaningful progress, we look forward to continuing and strengthening our diversity and inclusion efforts at Prada and across the industry. Prada is gratified to have been able to collaborate with the New York City Commission on Human Rights on a mutually agreeable conclusion.”
As noted, the settlement included that Prada USA will consult with the FIT’s president Brown.
The settlement also mandated that Prada’s New York employees must participate in New York City Human Rights Law training “by a licensed attorney with substantial knowledge of anti-discrimination training,” according to the press material revealing the settlement. Prada worked willingly and collaboratively with the commission to reach the terms of the settlement, it stated.
New York City Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives J. Phillip Thompson said in a statement that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is ”committed to protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to live free of racial bias and discrimination.”
“To see a symbol of Jim Crow-era oppression sold as a luxury bauble is a critical reminder that there is still work to be done. By engaging Prada with communities, who have been historically excluded from the luxury fashion industry, today’s settlement is an important step toward achieving positive social change in New York City,” he said.