Diversity & Inclusion

Are corporates cashing in on Pride?

In the summer of 2019 I did a short stint as the London correspondent for BONER Magazine, a gay lifestyle site based in Berlin.

At the time, BONER was a bi-lingual German/English magazine. It needed a different writing style – shorter sentences, simpler language and lots of pictures.

In this, the second of four articles, I researched the varying levels of support retailers and brands gave to LGBTQ Pride to try to find out who the true allies were and who was just cashing in. The article was originally published as “Is Pride Still Gay Enough?”

Walking down Regent Street in London this week you can’t help but notice the increase in brands connecting with Pride.

Stores like Top Man, Michael Kors, Oasis and Lululemon have gone to town with bright and colourful window displays. They give a show of visible support to the big queer march coming this Saturday.

But if you look deeper, the level of support each brand gives varies significantly. Some brands, like Oasis, have rainbow windows with no mention of the word Pride.

TopShop Pride Windows
Lots of colour, but no Pride messaging for Topshop on Oxford Street

Some, like HSBC have gone further with outspoken words of support.

HSBC takes visibility a step further making a statement about what Pride means to them.

Some fashion brands have Pride inspired clothing ranges on sale.

Polo Ralph Lauren has a five piece, gender neutral Pride capsule range for both adults and children.

Impressively, 100% of the proceeds from the signature t-shirt plus half of the proceeds from the other items all goes to the Stonewall Community Foundation.

Ralph Lauren has a long history of supporting LGBTQ causes. They’re also using LGBTQ models and celebrities like sportsman Gus Kenworthy to promote the range.

Gay freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy is the face of Polo Ralph Lauren’s 2019 Pride capsule range.

Clothing brand Original Penguin is another.

They have a Pride capsule range of polos, tanks, tees and tight trunks. Hot, gay comedian Matteo Lane is the model for all twelve items.

Comedian Matteo Lane is the face of Pride 2019 for Original Penguin.

The brand partnered with two LGBTQ+ illustrators for the range.

A donation has been made to the All Out charity although Original Penguin has been silent on how big or small the donation is.

Not everyone is happy with brands appropriating the LGBTQ fight for equality.

Rob Rees, an actor living in London feels that some brands are cashing in:

“… I feel it’s just a way for some brands to make money. It feels like too little too late. I find it quite offensive to be honest.

The contribution to LGBTQ causes should be significant and clearly shown. Other than that, they’re straight-washing the gay movement.”

Transparency isn’t the general order of the day.

Most brands we looked at make “a donation” but do not state how much.

Adidas, Calvin Klein, Diesel, Dockers, Nike, Under Armour and Vans all make unspecified donations that are not related to product sales.

Calvin Klein has one of the largest Pride clothing ranges but has only a vague statement saying “CALVIN KLEIN has made a donation to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation”

Stuart McCaighy from London also believes that financial support needs to be meaningful. He’s skeptical about what some companies do outside of Pride.

“Pride started as a protest and whilst I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with brands being involved in Pride I absolutely think some just jump on the bandwagon.

People love the rainbow flag and think it’s good opportunity to make some money. I don’t really have a problem with it but it would be nice to know that these companies really do make a meaningful contribution to the LGBT+ community. I don’t know that all of them really do.”

Kim Sanders, Director of Communications at Stonewall agrees:

“Since Stonewall was founded, we’ve come a long way in understanding and acceptance of LGBT people. Big business and brands have helped secure some of these changes. More than 750 organisations partner with us to make their workplaces somewhere that everyone can be themselves.

It’s always been important to us that the companies we work with are creating real change for the community.

It’s crucial that any support from a company during Pride month is matched by authentic representation internally, and that organisations represent the whole community.”

Michael Kors is unusual in promoting a large Pride capsule range but having only one product trigger a donation. 100% of income from their signature Pride t-shirt goes to their chosen charity.

The Pride 2019 Capsule Range in Michael Kors Window. Only profits from the T-Shirt are donated to charity which has attracted criticism.

Some people believe we deserve more.

When told about the Michael Kors approach, Martin Kejser, a fashion designer from London said:

“Donating income from only one item? I say they can go fuck themselves. We deserve more.

We’re a significant part of the population and all we get for them using our struggle is the proceeds from one t-shirt? I say go jump off a bridge.”

Fraser Wilson, Head of Media and PR at Terrence Higgins Trust echos the need for financial transparency:

“It’s great that brands want to engage with Pride – as long as it isn’t just slapping a rainbow on their logo.

We’ve been lucky to work with brands who want to mark Pride by supporting us both financially and in terms of exposure.

And for us that’s always been brands who are transparent about the level of financial support they’re giving through Pride ranges, as well as what else they’re bringing to the table for Pride.”

But there are brands meeting a higher standard.

ASOS has worked with the charity GLAAD since 2017. The charity works to promote LGBT acceptance and change the narrative about LGBT people in the media.

For the third year running they collaborated on a gender neutral Pride collection and 100% of the net profits from sales of all items go to GLAAD. It’s the largest Pride range we found with over 50 pieces.

Raisa Flowers, Tommy Dorfman and other young LGBTQ+ faces promoted last year’s ASOS / GLAAD Pride collaboration.

Sales of the range for the previous two years raised over $220,000 for GLAAD.

ASOS also has well publicised anti-discrimination policies and has joined the Stonewall Diversity Champion’s programme. In 2019 they will be in the Stonewall Equality Index for the first time. This benchmark will help them to take further positive action to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. They are an official sponsor of Pride London and last year walked in the parade carrying specially commissioned artwork from LGBTQ+ artist Joy Miessi.

Morgan Fitzsimmonds, Global Head of Engagement Marketing at ASOS said:

“Our latest collection features imagery from the original Pride March in New York to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. This helps spread GLAAD’s message of unity and acceptance – it’s about standing proud, feeling confident and having fun.

We introduced the initiative to ensure we participated in Pride month in an authentic and credible way, supporting something that is core to our brand and values.”

Overall it’s great to see lots of brands and companies get involved, improve visibility and show support, but to see the real allies you need to look closely.

All visible support will make the world seem less alien to young LGBTQ people growing up. But there is significant variation in the strength of actions from business allies so if you feel that’s important, you do need to look a little further than the shop window.

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