An Atlanta-based fashion label is facing intense backlash for debuting a controversial venture: a line of school-shooting-themed sweatshirts.
On Monday, Bstroy — a brand that describes itself as a “Neo-Native Menswear Design House” — posted some of its spring 2020 looks on Instagram. Four photos in particular stood out because of what the models were wearing: bullet-ridden sweatshirts bearing the names of schools that have suffered mass shootings — specifically, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
In an email statement to the Cut, designers Dieter Grams and Brick Owens outlined their intentions: “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.” While some Instagram users left comments applauding the brand’s commentary, a significantly larger number were quick to excoriate its execution. Last year, more than 110 people were killed or injured in school shootings across the U.S., making 2018 the worst year for gun violence in schools on record.
“There are so many ways to use fashion and clothing to make sociopolitical commentary — this isn’t it,” one Instagram user posted under the photo of the sweatshirt for Sandy Hook Elementary, the school where, in 2012, a shooting claimed the lives of 20 children and six teachers. “How do you think the parents who saw their children’s clothing with bullet holes through them feel seeing this? Comforted? Empowered? As if we are on the precipice of change?”
Here’s how people close to actual victims of the aforementioned shootings felt: horrified. “A company is make light of our pain and other’s pain for fashion,” reads a tweet from the memorial page for Vicki Soto, a teacher who was killed at Sandy Hook. “Unbelievable.”
The designers responded with a statement that mentions “mob mentality” and cancel culture. “People get the opportunity to form their opinions before they get all the information and here we see the internal desire of society rear its head,” it reads. “People seem to want to release hateful energy as a default.”
While Bstroy told the Cut that they’re not currently selling the sweatshirt, they’re now considering whether to capitalize. “The hoodies have only been shown not sold and the school shooting hoodies were initially intended to be just for the show and not to sell but that may change now.”
“Art’s Job is to wring emotion out,” concludes their statement. “What we do with it after is subjective and on us.”