In the age of racial reckoning, Ralph Lauren partners with Morehouse and Spelman graduates in vintage black fashion styles.

know about In the age of racial reckoning, Ralph Lauren partners with Morehouse and Spelman graduates in vintage black fashion styles.

Caused by assassination of george floyd On May 25, 2020, major retailers touted their commitment to racial justice. Some publicly supported the black lives matter movement. Vermont-based ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s went further, issuing a list of actions aimed at “dismantle[ing] white supremacy in all its forms.

Popular clothing company Ralph Lauren launched its own initiatives in 2020, and most recently in March 2022, when it announced a partnership with two historically black universities to design a line of commemorative clothing. The Polo Ralph Lauren Exclusively for the Morehouse and Spelman Colleges Collection it is the brainchild of two company staff members, Morehouse alumnus James Jeter and Spelman alumnus Dara Douglas.

In the words of company founder Ralph Lauren, the partnership with Morehouse and Spelman offers “a more complete and authentic portrait of the American way and the American dream.”

sell black style

For a company that prides itself on what it calls a “distinctive american perspective”, the image of Ralph Lauren is still limited in this new collection to the most respectable and easily monetized black people who animate African-American history.

In my next book “Branding Black Womanhood: Media Citizenship from Black Power to Black Girl Magic”I explore the history of this practice of courting black consumers through commercial campaigns that use social movement rhetoric.

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Then as now, my research has shown how affirmative images and slogans have been appropriated by America’s household brands and transformed into ads designed to attract middle-class black shoppers.

The companies that packaged such products believed that they could secure a new loyal black customer base simply by glamorously representing them.

As the costs of Ralph Lauren’s new clothing line reveal, wearing the latest fashion trend is so important to communities that it’s often overlooked.

Two black men are wearing business suits and ties while sitting on a bench.
Two men are seen in this screenshot of Ralph Lauren’s home page for their new Morehouse and Spelman fashions.
ralph lauren

Prices for the Morehouse Collection start at $69.50 for a maroon cap and go up to $2,498.00 for a wool coat. The least expensive item in the Spelman collection is a $98 silk scarf, with a $998 wool coat in the university’s signature sky blue at the high end.

An alleged $1 trillion in black purchasing power: a number disputed by some scholars – is probably part of what draws Ralph Lauren to this project on black history.

However, a racial wealth gap where the average black family claims just under 13% of the wealth owned by the average white family, reported as $188,200 in 2019, suggests that the value of such celebration campaigns is limited.

racial calculation

Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, Ralph Lauren joined the avalanche of corporations issuing public statements with a open letter on racial equality on June 10, 2020.

The letter described systemic racism as “an American problem” and “a fashionable problem” and outlined the company’s strategy for addressing its own failures.

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In addition to expanding established initiatives such as discussion groups, internal diversity training and support for the United Negro College Fund, Ralph Lauren also promised to “interview at least one Black or African American candidate” for senior leadership vacancies.

A white man with gray hair is wearing a collared shirt under a sweater, blue jeans and high-top sneakers.
Designer Ralph Lauren receives applause from the crowd during the final runway at his Fall 2022 Fashion Show on March 22, 2022 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Arthur Holmes/Getty Images

Since then, Ralph Lauren has unveiled his Morehouse and Spelman collection, explaining that he has an even longer list of commitments. Among them is a pledge of $2 million to the United Negro College Fund and “dedicated internship offers for HBCU students.”

An image showing black students dressed in sweaters and jackets.
A screenshot of Ralph Lauren’s association with Morehouse and Spelman universities.
ralph lauren

In addition, Ralph Lauren produced a documentary film, “A Portrait of the American Dream” commemorating the legacy of each institution and the Ivy-esque style that students made their own from the 1920s through the 1950s.

The documentary is transparent about the brand’s intention to correct its limited framing of American style by “writing untold chapters” in the history of classic collegiate fashion.

hip hop style

Ralph Lauren’s belated recognition follows in the footsteps of a long history in which black communities have imbued American culture with a distinctive aesthetic, especially in the realm of fashion. clothing.

In fact, Ralph Lauren’s decision to highlight pre-1960 black style overlooks a more recent and direct connection between Ralph Lauren and members of the hip-hop generation.

A group of young African-American and Latino New Yorkers glorified the brand in the 1980s, linking it to what was then an emerging urban subculture. The group called itself the Lo Lifesa riff on Polo’s name and a sarcastic admission that despite their affinity for clothing, they were excluded from the brand’s upper-class white target customer.

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Although Ralph Lauren initially resisted this less affluent fan base, most of the love story between hip-hop and polo persist

still awake

The idea of black excellence It’s nothing new. Neither is black pride commercialized.

Some of the black women standing in front of a building are wearing white turtleneck sweaters with the letter 'S' on them.
In this screenshot of Ralph Lauren’s homepage for its new Morehouse and Spelman fashion, a group of black women pose in front of a building.
ralph lauren

Even retailers like walmart are trying to take advantage of june nineteenththe holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and forced the slavers to free the enslaved.

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But questions remain about whether a new clothing line can lead to a greater understanding of the spirit of black excellence that powered black students at Morehouse and Spelman during the Civil Rights era.

One thing is clear: Ralph Lauren has at least increased the visibility of black life and culture during this era of racial reckoning.