Starbucks Is Addressing the Black Lives Matter Movement—By Designing a T-Shirt

4 months ago 31
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Starbucks is currently on target to becoming a $28.2 billion company this year. With that sizable amount of wealth comes serious power and influence, and yet—when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement that has been amplified by protests across the nation, demanding justice for Black Americans who have been victims of racism and police brutality—the coffee chain conglomerate has struggled to find its footing.

It all began back earlier this month, when, as reported by Buzzfeed, the company banned its baristas and employees from wearing any sort of T-shirt, pin, or accessory that mentioned Black Lives Matter. A company memo stated that any such gear could be “misunderstood and potentially incite violence.”

As soon as the BLM clothing ban became public knowledge, the backlash against Starbucks poured in. “I just saw Starbucks say that their employees can’t wear anything Supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement. And just like that, America truly will run on dunkin,” wrote one Twitter user. Just two days after the memo was leaked, Starbucks then swiftly changed its position on BLM: they announced employees will now be allowed to wear clothing or accessories in support of the cause. “We see you. We hear you. Black Lives Matter. That is a fact and will never change,” the company said in a statement on Friday. “Wear your BLM pin or t-shirt. We are so proud of your passionate support of our common humanity.”

Not only did Starbucks completely change its previous stance, it even announced that it will be creating its very own BLM T-shirt, too, for its employees to wear to work (should they choose to.) The company claims it will produce roughly 250,000 of these corporate tees, available to all of its workers in North America. (It is also being sold on the internet for $19.99.) Let’s talk about their design.

The black T-shirt’s logo includes a variety of protest signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “Together We Can,” “Stand Up,” and “Time for Change,” among other statements. One sign simply shows a raised black fist. At the bottom, a unifying line reads, “It’s not a moment, it’s a movement.” In the new memo, the company said the T-shirt was designed “to recognize the historic significance of this time. Together, we’re saying: Black Lives Matter and it’s going to take ALL of us, working together, to affect change.”

On paper, the T-shirt design hits all the right sensitivity notes: it presents a clear message of unity and action, not to mention it’s a smart PR move to follow up its much-denounced ban of these exact sentiments just last week. But some critics have accused the company’s design roll-out as performative allyship. And they’re not wrong: why create a tee when a company of that magnitude could simply spend that time and money practicing what it preaches? By supporting and uplifting its own Black employees, or opening their purse and donating to a cause?

Starbucks has pledged to donate some of its funds to BLM-related organizations. Earlier this month, the Starbucks Foundation claimed it will donate $1 million to organizations “promoting racial equity and more inclusive and just communities.” It said these organizations will be nominated by Starbucks employees (hopefully, by its Black employees). But considering the company’s total net worth, that sum, however helpful, barely makes a dent in its whopping bank account. Companies of much smaller value, such as Glossier, which is projected to be a $1 billion brand, have pledged just as much to BLM—and they have even taken further steps as well, such as Glossier establishing a grant to support black-owned beauty businesses.

In other words, a T-shirt may bear the right sentiment, but action speaks louder than words.

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