Forever 21 reversed course and pulled a picture of a white model wearing its Wakanda Forever Fair Isle Sweater when consumers voiced concerns over the optics.
The fast-fashion brand tweeted a photo of a male model wearing the sweater, a nod to Marvel’s “Black Panther” character, which received the superhero movie treatment this year. The movie takes place in the fictional African nation of Wakanda and was praised for its positive representation of African-Americans.
But the model who donned the “Black Panther” logo sweater — which read “Wakanda Forever” — was a platinum blonde man with crystal blue eyes.
Critics online were quick to point out the disconnect, sparking a conversation about inclusivity and racial insensitivity.
One Twitter user, @WhoIsMarkPaul, tweeted that he was “highly offended” by the photo.
“In what universe did you think it was okay to feature a white model in Wakanda Gear?” said the Twitter user who identified himself as “a former #21Men brand specialist for the company.”
Another user wrote that Forever 21 is “tone deaf.”
Meanwhile, others came to Forever 21’s defense, including @Lunaticshii, who tweeted that people “complain about everything.”
“Black Panther is a marvel character created for any and everyone to enjoy. Relax,” the Twitter user wrote.
Still, more shoppers went straight to the company’s web site, where the $34.90 sweater is still available for sale, to post their thoughts on the issue.
Forever 21 removed the tweet, but kept an image of the sweater on the web site — sans model.
“Forever 21 takes concerns on our products and marketing extremely seriously,” the company said in a statement. “While we celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities, we listened to the important feedback from our customers and removed the product photo in question from our web site and social media accounts. We sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by the product photo.”
Gucci, H&M and Victoria’s Secret are just a few other fashion brands to have recent cultural appropriation issues of their own — the concept of taking and using elements from a different culture for one’s own benefit, often disrespecting the minority culture in the process.