This time, the retailer beloved by millennials everywhere is stirring up controversy by selling T-shirts that may contain racist propaganda, reports the local Fox40 news affiliate in Modesto, Calif. Customer Stella Lopez was shopping at an outpost of the chain this past weekend when she and friend Amie Alton spotted a rack of graphic tees adorned with the number 88.
“Those are huge symbols of hate,” Lopez explained to Fox40. “It’s definitely Nazi propaganda.”
Not familiar with this particular symbol? The number 88 is in fact a well-documented if slightly under-the-radar code phrase among white supremacists that stands for “Heil Hitler.” H is the eighth letter in the alphabet, making two H‘s a form of in-the-know shorthand for the infamous Nazi salute that has unfortunately risen in popularity in recent years as a subtle way to avoid using overtly racist terminology while communicating the same message.
“I’ve seen that tagged on stuff growing up and know what that is,” Alton told reporters. “It stands for HH, ‘Heil Hitler.’ And the lightning bolt stands for the SS from the Third Reich.”
While lightning bolts are generally pictured in pairs as a representation of white supremacy, the Forever 21 T-shirt in question contains them only as single symbols. But combined with the numbers, which are randomly scattered across the shirt in a prominent font in slogans like “88 forever,” the women felt the message was unmistakable — and they had to do something about it.
“I just took the stack of shirts and told the guy about it that was working at the store, and gave him a little background history which he did not know about,” Alton explained. “And he set them behind the counter.” When representatives from Fox40 later visited the Forever 21 store in question to see the shirts for themselves, they found them removed from the floor. But, a men’s hoodie bearing the symbols remained for sale at the location. As for the shirt that started it all, at the time of Fox40’s report, it remained for sale online, but as of this writing, we can no longer find it among the brand’s copious graphic tees. Yahoo Style has reached out to Forever 21 for comment and will update if and when we hear back.
Whatever Forever 21’s intentions, the brand has certainly had practice dealing with bad buzz this past year. The Biebs-approved retailer, whose sales seemed to hit a rough patch in 2016, has been hit with a parade of plagiarism accusations recently. Last July, it as accused of ripping off Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo-inspired merchandise. One month later, Complex editorial producer Emily Oberg accused it of copying her company’s sweatshirt design. And in October, Hot Girls Eating Pizza Instagrammer Marta Freedman slammed them for allegedly ripping off her Kanye-inspired “I Feel Like Pizza” tee.
Forever 21’s potentially racist T-shirt isn’t plagiarized, but it is a bad message at the wrong time, says Lopez. “There’s a lot of anger right now in our country. And there’s potential there’s going to be violence because of this,” she said. But Alton put it more simply to reporters: “Facism isn’t fashion.”
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