A men’s fashion brand is facing criticism for debuting a series of school shooting-themed sweatshirts at New York Fashion Week. The New York-based label Bstroy had models walk the runway this week in hoodies reading “Sandy Hook,” “Columbine,” “Virginia Tech” and “Stoneman Douglas” with apparent bullet holes in the green, gray and blue styles from the spring 2020 collection.
Bstroy co-founder Brick Owens posted a photo on social media this week to explain the inspiration, reading in part, “Sometimes life can be painfully ironic. Like the irony of dying violently in a place you considered to be a safe, controlled environment, like a school. We are reminded all the time of life’s fragility, shortness, and unpredictability yet we are also reminded of its infinite potential.”
Users on social media, including family members of the victims of the school shootings, swiftly put the streetwear brand on blast. Comments on Owens’ post included “This isn’t freaking ‘irony’ this is TRAUMA. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” and “You’re a fucking moron and your line is almost as stupid as you are literally garbage sewn together.” Others wrote, “Enough of your fake enlightened bullshit. You are just trying to make money off of dead first graders” and “You went about this the wrong way. Sad and distasteful.”
On CBS News, Gayle King encouraged the designers not to release the hoodies for sale: “I just think the pain, the negative, far outweighs the positive.”
The hoodies reference deadly events at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 2007; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012; and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.
“Under what scenario could somebody think this was a good idea? This has me so upset,” tweeted Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter died at Stoneman Douglas.
The Instagram memorial account for a teacher killed at Sandy Hook, Vicki Soto, wrote: “As a Sandy Hook family, what you are doing here is absolutely disgusting, hurtful, wrong and disrespectful. … You’ll never know what our family went through after Vicki died protecting her students. Our pain is not to be used for your fashion.”
Added photographer Mel D. Cole, “If I was there I would have called this shit out right then and there!” and “This is fucking dumb dumb dumb.”
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Owens met co-founder Dieter Grams, who goes by Du, on MySpace when they were teenagers growing up in Atlanta. They created their first fashion show in 2013. One of their signature pieces is a pair of double-edged jeans that looks like two pairs stitched together (they’ve sold 25 of them for $1,000 each, according to The New York Times, which profiled the designers last week).
“We are making violent statements,” Du said. “That’s for you to know who we are, so we can have a voice in the market. But eventually that voice will say things that everyone can wear.”
On Tuesday, the Today show published a statement from Owens in which he said that “our image as young, black males has not been traditionally awarded credit for introducing avant-garde ideas. So many people have assumed our message to be lazy just because of what they’ve been taught about black men.” He said the hoodies were made with “all of these intentions” in mind “to explore all of these societal issues” related to gun violence.
“We wanted to make a comment on gun violence and the type of gun violence that needs preventative attention and what its origins are, while also empowering the survivors of tragedy through storytelling in the clothes,” Owens said in the statement.
In 2014, Urban Outfitters caused online outrage over its “vintage” Kent State sweatshirt with red dye that resembled blood stains, appearing to reference the 1970 shooting in which the Ohio National Guards killed four college students in the midst of a Vietnam War protest.
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