A pair of clothing designers have triggered backlash by including school shooting-themed hoodies in the rollout of their Spring 2020 collection Sunday at New York Fashion Week.
Brick Owens and Dieter Grams, the cofounders of Atlanta’s Bstroy streetwear label, sent four models onto the runway in the collegiate-style sweatshirts, which were emblazoned with the names of schools and colleges that have seen high-profile mass shootings: Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech University and Sandy Hook Elementary School. The hoodies were also distressed with what looked like bullet holes to many.
Bstroy posted images from the fashion show to Instagram on Monday, and Owens shared a photo of the show notes to his personal account, explaining the idea behind the collection, which was dubbed “Samsara.”
“Sometimes life can be painfully ironic. Like the irony of dying violently in a place you considered to be a safe, controlled environment, like school,” the handout said. “‘Samsara’ is the cycle we must transcend to reach Nirvana.”
Grams later told TIME that the collection was intended to go deeper than the “surface layer” conversations on gun violence in schools and to empower survivors and promote gun control.
“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,” he said.
A New York Times profile of Bstroy last week noted that the label’s previous collections have also referenced firearms, including with “graphic T-shirts that nod to preppy interests like tennis and fencing, but with the sports gear replaced by guns.”
“We are making violent statements,” Grams 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.”
Bstroy school shooting hoodies trigger backlash
However, the response to the collection was overwhelmingly negative, including from those directly effected by mass shootings.
Delaney Tarr, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida, and March for Our Lives co-founder, called the hoodies “disgusting” and “unacceptable” in a tweet.
So this is fucking disgusting. Unacceptable. Bullet holes?? People died. People DIED. Jesus. https://t.co/DtQWqwpxkU
— Delaney Tarr (@delaneytarr) September 16, 2019
Tarr’s former classmate and fellow activist Cameron Kasky commented on Instagram that “there were multiple people who thought this was a good idea.”
“Under what scenario could somebody think this was a good idea?” asked Fred Guttenberg, the father of Parkland victim Jamie Guttenberg.
“This is just absolutely horrific,” tweeted an account dedicated to Victoria Soto, a teacher killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. “A company is make light of our pain and other’s pain for fashion.”
This is just absolutely horrific. A company is make light of our pain and other’s pain for fashion. Selling sweatshirts with our name and bullet holes. Unbelievable.
These School Shooting Hoodies Receive Major Twitter Backlash – PAPER https://t.co/DovuEeRaqM
— Team Vicki Soto (@TeamVickiSoto) September 17, 2019
Many commenters accused the company of trying to profit from tragedy.
“The fact that a designer would seek to profit by glamorizing the school violence that killed our children, Dylan and Daniel, and the deaths of so many more, is repugnant and deeply upsetting,” said Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, cofounders of the gun-control group Sandy Hook Promise, in a statement. “This is not about inspiring change to prevent these acts of violence, nor is it a difference of politics or opinion; it is human decency to immediately halt the production of these items and apologize.”
Some gun-rights conservatives were appalled, too.
— Whiskey Patriots (@TheWhiskeyPats) September 17, 2019
Playing the race card
Addressing the backlash, Grams complained to TIME: “People seem to want to release hateful energy as a default, rather than waiting to hear an explanation.”
He suggested racism was at play.
“Our image as young black males has not been traditionally awarded credit for introducing avant-garde ideas, [and] many people have assumed our message to be lazy just because of what they’ve been taught about black men,” he said. “These hoodies were made with all of these intentions in mind. To explore all of these societal issues… [and] the different ways that we relate to each other and the dated ideas that still shape the assumptions we make about each other.”