Photo courtesy of Only The Brave.

Does A Model of Color in 'Pale Face' Offend You?

Only The Brave co-owner Marcus “Mars” Simpson has gone viral after creating a sweater to counter Gucci’s blackface-invoking turtleneck.

by Mion Edwards
Feb 22 2019, 3:01pm

Photo courtesy of Only The Brave.

The fashion industry has been awash in accusations of racism and insensitivity of late, with Gucci specifically receiving backlash for the creation of a jumper that some perceived as resembling blackface.

In response to the backlash, Gucci released a statement saying, “[We] can confirm that the item has been immediately removed from our online store and all physical stores.” In addition, they said that they “deeply apologize for the offense.” In its statement, Gucci listed initiatives to increase diversity such as creating recruitment efforts to hire more global and regional directors for diversity and inclusion, developing a multicultural design scholarship program, and launching a global exchange program.

Clothing company Only The Brave went viral with its response to Gucci by creating a “Pale Face” sweater and posting it to Instagram. The counter turtleneck depicts small pink lips to perpetuate the stereotype that white people have thinner lips in comparison to members of other races, against a background meant to mimic a Caucasian skin tone.

Marcus “Mars” Simpson, co-owner of Only The Brave and the creator of the “Pale Face” sweater, recalled his reaction when he saw Gucci’s blackface jumper: “At first I felt numb because being a black man in America, we're used to mistreatment. I was at a loss for words. Our people support and buy Gucci so it was like a slap in the face.”

Simpson says he did not create the “Pale Face” sweater to promote hate, but rather in hopes of increasing activism through everyday clothing and elevating dialogue about social justice in the black community. “When companies do things like this, I want us to feel like we’re in a position to fight back.”

Only the Brave trades in a range of political and unapologetically controversial clothing, including "MAGA: Men Against Genocidal Assholes" pull-overs and faux-sports-team "Gentrifiers" crewnecks. The brand's overall site traffic grew by 5% after the release of the “Pale Face” sweater, accumulating 300,000 likes on Instagram and 52,000 shares on Facebook, with some seeing the sweater as a symbol of reverse racism (seemingly missing the fact that there is no known derogatory symbol in American history for white people that is comparable to blackface.)

Simpson sees the “Pale Face” sweater as a part of a wave of activism through clothing—once reserved for signs at protests, social justice ideals are now spelled out for the world to see on T-shirts and hoodies, even if their message isn’t always easily received (remember the controversy surrounding Lebron James and other basketball players’s “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts before a 2014 Cavaliers/Nets game?)

There’s significant precedent for garments that serve to express the injustice of the status quo—from the haunting “See us now?” gauntlet thrown down on the back of Pyer Moss’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection to the memorial T-shirts that create “a little justice, a tiny peace” for grieving families on Chicago’s South Side—but now, Simpson is weaponizing clothing to send a clear and unignorable message to brands like Gucci that apologies don’t negate impact.

Simpson’s brand’s name is all too prescient, he says: “Only the brave should wear our clothing. It’s not not for everyone, but it is for the revolutionary.”

Only the Brave