If you type the term “antisemitic fashion” into Google, the results are sparse. The same few articles pop up — I found myself going to page three of my Google search results, something I think the general public doesn’t actually do.
However, once I started searching individual brands — fast-fashion brands, in particular — the search engine began to surface more articles detailing shady antisemitic activities in which these companies have been caught. I took a deep dive into the past 10 years to see which fashion brands have been guilty of recent antisemitism and how they’ve changed (or not) to make up for their actions.
Zara (2007 and 2015)
2015 was a bad year for Zara: They released a pair of children’s pajamas that resembled concentration camp uniforms and were re-outed for a line of purses they produced with swastikas on them in 2007. Both items were quickly recalled from stores and the website, but also provided the fuel that Ian Jack Miller needed to sue Zara for $40 million for discrimination. Miller, formerly Zara’s general counsel for the US and Canada, claimed he was fired for being Jewish, gay and American — three things that the founder of Zara, Amancio Ortega, apparently hated.
Miller had worked for Zara for 7 years, earning positive reviews for his performance, and had just managed a $300 million real estate deal for Zara when he was fired in 2015. Once his religious affiliations were made known to the company, he claimed, all his strong work was forgotten. He was targeted with antisemitic and homophobic emails and excluded from work correspondence and meetings; his annual pay raise was cut. Ortega also made it known how much he disliked working with Jewish landlords and real estate agents, calling them “los judios” or “the Jews,” and often said how hard it was to work with “those people.” Along with his antisemitic remarks, Ortega also sent racist emails portraying the Obamas in extremely derogatory ways, per Miller. The company released a statement in response to Miller’s lawsuit stating, “Zara is a ‘diverse and multicultural company with a ‘strong social commitment based on fairness, respect and equality for all.’”
Urban Outfitters (2012 and 2015)
Urban Outfitters is part of the parent company URBN which owns Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, BHLDN and Nuuly — none of which has sparked as much controversy as Urban Outfitters. UO has had many a run-in with being called out for designing racist, homophobic, and antisemitic products, as well as stealing design ideas from independent designers and businesses.
In 2012, a yellow t-shirt with a star placed in the top right corner was released and immediately condemned for looking similarly to the yellow stars of David Jewish people were forced to wear in Nazi Europe. Though Urban took down the shirt and stated that “it was never meant to be for sale,” their design and merchandising teams clearly didn’t acknowledge the harm they caused, nor did they change much in the next few years. In 2015, a gray and white striped tapestry with a pink triangle almost identical to the uniform gay male prisoners were forced to wear in concentration camps was posted on their website. Though when you search for either of the products today, nothing can be found but old screenshots from the website, a formal apology was never actually published regarding their antisemitic actions.
Forever 21 (2017)
When it comes to big fast fashion brands quickly destroying the world, Forever 21 is often at the top of the list. Their graphic tees are extremely popular, as they frequently feature graphics from TV shows, movies, music and modern art.
A shirt that came out in 2017, however, was called out by the Anti-Defamation League for displaying the symbol “88” repeating. 88 translates to “HH” or “Heil Hitler” through white supremacist numerical code, as H is the 8th letter in the alphabet. The release and immediate recall of the t-shirt also brought up an alleged incident in which F21 sold jewelry with swastikas on it. Though this was proved false, it’s worth asking why the rumor was started in the first place.
Forever 21 responded to the public outcry and issued a general apology for “anyone who was offended by the product.”
Amazon (2017, 2018, 2020)
Amazon is the fifth largest company in the world and the largest online retailer by market cap. You can find literally anything on amazon.com — and though their third party-seller policy prohibits the sale of “products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views,” many vendors can still be found selling such products. Antisemitic and Holocaust-denying content can be found on t-shirts, in books and in other products. Amazon has banned some seller accounts permanently, but others always seem to pop up. There have been many critics from advocacy groups who have pleaded with Amazon over the past few years to change their weak and inadequately enforced policies. In response, Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, published a letter that boasted the sophistication of the automated tools used to scan the website for any listings that go against company guidelines and automatically remove said listings.
Brandy Melville (2021)
Brandy Melville gained popularity and controversy quickly for its Instagrammable, “one size fits all” trendy clothing. Their styles are seen all over Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok as the easiest way to attain the latest cool girl look. In May of 2021, however, details about Brandy’s founder, owner and CEO, Stephan Marsan, began to reveal themselves on the social media platforms that made his company so lucrative. For one, the brand is based on the racist and fatphobic values: Only white, skinny blonde girls deserve to wear Brandy clothes. Marsan and other brand higher-ups choose all models and employees of Brandy Melville stores based on their appearance and disregard anyone who doesn’t fit their outdated and offensive ideals. There have been accusations of rape and sexual harassment by multiple owners of Brandy Melville stores and, most recently, a group chat of about 30 top company executives was leaked that revealed pages of Nazi propaganda. The word “Hitler” was found in more than 150 screenshots, including a t-shirt that read “Hitler,” a picture of a woman wearing a sash that said, “Miss Auschwitz 1943” and an image of Hitler with the words “Premio Nobel per la brace” — which translates to “Nobel Prize for barbecue.”
As of now, Stephen Marsan is still the CEO of Brandy Melville and though there are many articles condemning how their business is structured, nothing seems to have changed.
The fashion world has never been known as the most inclusive and forward-thinking part of society. It is constantly evolving due to our society’s need to consume and update constantly. But as brands and trends continue to rise and fall, it is imperative that we as consumers set the tone for what we want to buy and what we want to shut down. As in all good Jewish practices, the goal is to be mindful when we shop. There is no way to know and account for every bigoted action a brand has ever committed, and as such, it’s not always possible to be sure we’re shopping ethically. There is a way, however, to find a balance, and to shop with the intention to create a fashion world that is more welcoming and kinder for everyone.