Black Lives Matter and the Streetwear Community

How streetwear brands are responding to George Floyd's murder and the BLM movement

Image from Rick Bowmer

On May 25, George Floyd was arrested in Minnesota after allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. He was reportedly wary of getting into the police car due to his claustrophobia, yet he did not resist arrest. Nevertheless, Officer Chauvin placed a knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to restrain Floyd. Videos from bystanders reveal that Floyd repeatedly stated he could not breathe, begged for his life, and even called to his deceased mother, all while the three surrounding officers stood by with no intervention. Floyd was taken away in an ambulance and found to be pulseless. Police brutality against minorities in the United States has gone unaddressed for decades, and Americans are fed up.

George Floyd

Although the institution of slavery was dismantled by the 13th Amendment, African Americans remained legally oppressed until the Civil Rights Movement, which was a turning point for the treatment and equality of blacks in America. Unfortunately, racist sentiments remain present in the United States and are expressed in ways more subtle than enforced segregation. The repeated killings of African Americans by police officers and the lack of punishment for these officers reveal serious flaws in America’s policing system: racism, insufficient training, and brutality. In the days following Floyd’s murder, the country erupted in outrage. People gathered in the streets by the thousands to protest police brutality, demand punishment for the officers involved, call for law enforcement reform, and honor the lives of those who have been unjustly killed by the police.

Along with the protesting came looting. Some people looted because they were tired of the pain and suffering that members of their community faced and felt it was the only way to get the nation’s full attention. Others were merely opportunists who took advantage of having thousands of people blocking the streets and ransacked whatever stores they could. The uprisings took place in nearly every major city in the United States, with everything from Target to Louis Vuitton to police stations to family-restaurants diners being destroyed, burned, and looted. Unfortunately, those fighting for justice by peacefully protesting were lumped in with violent protesters and looters, ultimately shinning a negative light on protests in general. Many small business owners lost their livelihoods as a result of the destruction, a heart-breaking side effect of the looting; however, both the protests and looting were successful in gaining non-stop coverage from the news media, something peaceful gatherings may not have accomplished on their own.

Image from Chang W. Lee

Over the past few decades, the streetwear community has been heavily influenced by black culture and supported by the black community. In response to recent events, various brands and designers have decided to reciprocate the support via donations, public announcements, and special edition clothing. It is unclear whether looters are lashing out in response to systemic injustice or simply trying to steal merchandise; nevertheless, brands are looking past the destruction of their shops towards the problems causing suffering for the black community.

A video taken on June 3rd showed the Supreme New York store on Bowery St. being raided by dozens of people, who were throwing hats into the street and running away with boxes full of apparel. Instead of doing a drop that Thursday, Supreme announced they would be donating $500,000 to Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, Campaign Zero, and Black Futures Lab. This is one of the few times Supreme has ever skipped a release, but I assume it was out of respect. However, Supreme removed the binoculars and basketball from the website’s SS20 preview a few weeks later. The brand has been known to push back certain items to subsequent seasons, but perhaps they lost a significant amount of apparel that was supposed to drop. We will have to wait until next season to find out whether those two accessories will actually be released.

Current circumstances have also resulted in numerous sneaker release postponements. There have been multiple times where I went on to the SNKRS app for a drop, only to find out that the drop date was pushed back by a month. Nike probably decided it was insensitive to be releasing new shoes while people across the country were mourning the death of Floyd and protesting police brutality; however, release delays are still occurring over a month after Floyd’s passing, leading me to believe they may be the result of technical or supply issues.

Along with their suspension of releases, Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand announced that they would donating $100 million over the next ten years to organizations that work to provide African Americans with greater access to education and more social justice. Nike’s main sportswear competitor, Adidas, initially pledged to donate $20 million, but upped the number by $100 million after receiving backlash for not addressing alleged accounts of racism in the company.

Instead of donating a lump sum of money, other brands decided to release fundraiser shirts. A Bathing Ape created a black tee with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ next to their camo ape head logo. In an Instagram post, they specified that all the proceeds would be donated to the NAACP and Color of Change. Similarly, Jeff Staple and Futura2000 collaborated on a T-shirt that reads ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the classic Futura font. Each purchase of the shirt benefits multiple organizations, but also enters each customer into a raffle for the chance to win a pair of Fragment Air Jordan 1s, three pairs of Staple Pigeon Nikes, or a Futura2000 figure, further incentivizing people to make the purchase. Jerry Lorenzo, founder of Fear of God, decided to switch around the letters in his brand’s logo, changing it from FG to GF for George Floyd. All of the proceeds are being donated to the Gianna Floyd fund. I love seeing the sneaker and streetwear communities coming together around this movement, and it is my hope that these contributions will enable activist organizations to influence the creation of a more equal society for all participants.

Fear of God George Floyd Tee