Zara has found itself the wrong kind of Internet fame after an astute social media user spotted a problematic skirt being sold online. The high-waisted denim miniskirt contained two patches that each bore a striking resemblance to the cartoon frog Pepe, a popular meme that has been declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Megan Fredette, who goes by @meaganrose on Twitter, wrote, “Zara is really out there trying to sell a P*pe the frog skirt, apparently unaware (?) of its current implications.” Fredette originally linked to the item, but the product’s URL now redirects to the fast fashion brand’s main denim page, indicating that the skirt has been pulled from the website.
Zara is really out there trying to sell a P*pe the frog skirt, apparently unaware (?) of its current implications https://t.co/gQ3bimsdg2
— meagan ???? (@meaganrosae) April 18, 2017
“My immediate thought was holy s***, they have no idea what they are doing here, do they?” Fredette told Dazed of the skirt. “Given their history of apparently discriminating against black customers … they are trying to be edgy here, without caring about the very real implications of their design. Flirting with racial controversy is not a good business tactic.”
Pepe — also known as “sad frog” — wasn’t always such a negative symbol. The character was created in 2005 by artist Matt Furie for his “Boy’s Club” cartoons, according to Know Your Meme. In 2008, a version of the cartoon popped up in the online community 4chan, once known as a springboard for viral content. From there, Pepe was propelled to Reddit, where it became both a hero and an antihero, as CNN put it.
The cartoon frog could alternately be seen using the phrases “Feels good, man,” and “Feels bad, man.” The Internet went wild with creative license, publishing incarnations of the frog that included Smug Pepe, Angry Pepe, Batman Pepe, Supermarket Checkout Girl Pepe, Borat Pepe, and Keith Haring Pepe, to name just a few Pepes.
But in 2015, when Malaysian artist Maldraw posted to 4chan an illustration of “Smug Pepe as Donald Trump overlooking a fence at the U.S.-Mexican border holding back sad Mexicans,” Pepe was co-opted by the alt-right. The graphic included pro-Nazi verbiage and symbols, including a swastika and the phrase “skin head.” The movement continues to use the frog to express racism and anti-Semitism.
In response, the ADL added the meme to its database of hate symbols. “The majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted,” the organization stated in September 2016. “However, it was inevitable that, as the meme proliferated in online venues such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, which have many users who delight in creating racist memes and imagery, a subset of Pepe memes would come into existence that centered on racist, anti-Semitic, or other bigoted themes.”
As for Zara, it’s unclear whether or not they knew what they were doing. Yahoo Style reached out to the brand for comment but has yet to hear back. The fact that the controversial skirt has disappeared from its site, though, speaks volumes. In the meantime, Fredette, who happens to be a music and fashion journalist, is weathering both criticism and support for calling out the company.
Users have been calling her a “snowflake” and harassing her for censoring Pepe’s name in her original tweet. Others are keeping it light with jokes like, “Fascism has started to become very cool again in Spain FYI,” referring to Zara’s Spanish roots.
It’s not the first time Zara has come under fire for tasteless, politically wrought fashion. In 2014, Zara sold a kids’ shirt that looked uncomfortably similar to a Holocaust prison uniform. The retailer later apologized for the gaffe and pulled the product.
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