Pinkwashing is a term that can be described as ‘presenting something LGBT+ friendly, usually in an effort to soften negative attention’ and is often found in marketing campaigns and collections from brands and organisations, especially throughout June (which is considered Pride month for most of the world).
LGBT+ pride collections
As the LGBT+ community continues to grow and representation continues to increase, the opportunity to cater towards this increasingly profitable market is large. Many fashion brands have been attempting to capture the attention of this minority group for some years, releasing annual Pride collections featuring rainbows and slogans promoting self-love and acceptance.
ASOS, Levi’s, H&M, Converse, Vans, and Primark are some of the few major retailers who have been producing Pride collections throughout the last few years. They often feature a diverse set of models and sometimes even donate a small percentage of the profit to related charities.
One brand that has received a lot of coverage for their Pride collection this year is Vans, donating $200k between 4 LGBT+ organisations. They centered the collection around the ‘spirit of creative self-expression’.
What is the issue?
Despite how it may seem face-on, however, there have been many questions from LGBT+ people around the authenticity of these ventures. Creating specific featured collections with the intention to help may seem like only a positive thing – yet it actually could be damaging to some.
When referring back to the term Pinkwashing, brands could potentially only be openly supporting the community to cast a positive light on themselves – advocating for inclusivity whilst collecting profits. Even with donations to charities, the brand themselves will usually make 9x more than their pledge.
You may be wondering why this is an issue – surely any attention and donation is inherently positive? But, to members of the LGBT+ community, this can feel exploitative, and can seem like brands are only being accepting if they know they are going to make money out of an already underrepresented minority.
The LGBT+ community wants to feel included, and oftentimes it feels good to be able to walk into a store and buy a shirt that makes you feel proud of who you are knowing that others will be able to recognise your fight. However, when looking at the selection this year – it is clear that brands do not truly understand what it is to be LGBT+, and what people really want.
Looking at ASOS’ range for 2021 – they featured rainbow sequin blouses and skirts and fluffy slides, but how prideful really is this?
In reality, the majority of the community prefers more a more subtle way to represent themselves. Be it through aesthetics, symbols, or accessories. They also prefer to support LGBT+ individuals rather than just a retailer who they may not be sure truly understands them.
How to adapt?
This does not mean that in the future brands should stop marketing for Pride altogether, as I’m sure some individuals do love the opportunity to buy accessible LGBT+ friendly clothing from their favourite brands, it just means it can be adapted going forwards.
In order for brands to maintain their relevance within this growing market – a good option would be to involve more LGBT+ people in the creation of their Pride collections. It is extremely evident when this is the case, and the community respects the decision to involve them in the decision process. It also widens diversity inside of the industry which is extremely beneficial!
Another positive change would be to work with communities throughout the whole year, not just during Pride month. The fact many retailers only seem to care during the 1 month period where Pride is a top priority is why so many people see these efforts as Pinkwashing. Instead, brands could make a more active effort to keep up with the LGBT+ community, creating a positive space that feels inclusive.