In 1996, I heard that Tommy Hilfiger said that he didn’t make his clothes for black people. I admired Hilfiger’s clothing, but there was no way I was going to purchase another piece, if indeed, he was going around making racist comments.
So, I didn’t.
Four years later, Spike Lee’s satirical film, Bamboozled, criticized America’s race relations. In it, Lee also ridiculed America’s fascination with brand-named fashion and alluded to Hilfiger’s alleged racism, with a parody he called Timmy Hilnigger.
As an avid Spike Lee fan, I was amused. I thought it was clever, and I was happy to be on the “right” side of an issue. My position remained, and I didn’t buy any more Hilfiger clothing.
That is until Saturday, September 14, 2019.
On that weekend, I was looking for something appropriate to wear to a tea that I’d been invited to. The host was going to wear a dress, and according to Google, I should too. I ended up at TJ Maxx because I had no intention on spending a bunch of money on clothes I may or may not ever wear again.
After several minutes, I found a cute, classic navy blue and white dress. The only issue is it was by Tommy Hilfiger! Yes. Twenty-three years later, I was still holding out on my Hilfiger ban. But I tried it on anyway because like I said, it was cute.
It looked even more fabulous on, and I had no hesitation. I was buying this $40 dress, racist Hilfiger or not.
The next day, I showed Dwight, who also agreed it was nice.
“Too bad I’ll be wearing clothes by a racist,” I said. “I’m choosing to exert my willful ignorance for fashion.”
Dwight pushed back a little and wondered what Hilfiger had actually said decades ago. His point was nowadays, people take things out of context, so how did it come about that Hilfiger allegedly said he didn’t make clothes for black people?
Unlike 20 years ago, this time I could Google it. That’s when I found this: Did Oprah Winfrey Throw Tommy Hilfiger Off Her Show for Making a Racist Comment?
And finally, this, The Racism Scandal that Rocked Tommy Hilfiger.
In case you don’t have time to read these, here’s what I found out. Tommy Hilfiger never said those words, ever.
This revelation is a little more than disturbing. I can’t imagine having built a company, with a primary goal of being the best in my field, having succeeded in that goal, and then having an untraceable rumor ruin my reputation and decrease sales.
What’s equally disturbing is how quickly we will stop supporting businesses with little to no facts. It’s called cancel culture. While I’m not opposed to boycotting businesses with verified questionable practices or opinions and morals not aligned with what I believe, I am opposed to canceling a company or brand simply because of a rumor.
After this incident, it’s clear that I have to do better. But I’m starting to believe we all do.