How companies “Woke-Wash” their brands

By: Ella Tabor

Recently, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there has been an uproar of sustainability and a level of awareness that brands are portraying. This is mainly due to the increased desire for political change from the public and the media. Businesses simply can’t risk facing any form of scrutiny. 

These brands aim to appeal to their consumers by releasing more levels of sizing, a deeper range of shades for make-up, an image of sustainability, and messages of empowerment or in support of equality movements; anything that makes the brand look politically correct. 

But, these brands, most often, do not actually support or employ the messages they say they do. 

The term “Woke-Washing” is used to describe business practices that are made to appear conscious, yet do not provide much substance. 

The art of performing a progressive move only for the public eye is nothing new. Take for instance the term “Glass Cliff”. Originally coined by women, the “Glass Cliff” refers to when a company promotes someone (most often minority and women) to an executive position under circumstances that make success improbable. Often, companies will do this to their leaders of color; they get all the praise for the progressive action and none of the criticism when they let them go.

For an example of this shady technique, let’s look at the brand Lululemon. Lululemon is a brand that focuses on athletic wear, athleisure, and healthy living. Lululemon portrays an image of inclusivity and equity yet, in 2019 the brand was mocked for promoting an event on “decolonising gender” and “resisting capitalism”. 

The brand was quickly shamed by the media and Twitter users for its ironic stance on capitalism, given the price vs. quality of their clothing. One Twitter user, Randi Max, says, “…Lululemon’s yoga pants cost $150 and you are telling me to resist capitalism?” 

Also, in 2019, the brand faced allegations that workers at a factory in Bangladesh, who make the brand’s clothing, had been beaten and abused according to The Guardian. Attempting to sweep this under the rug, Lululemon gave no proper response to these allegations. 

As we can see, Woke-Washing is truly just another form of performative activism; it forces false narratives of progressive actions without any of the action. 

Lululemon is only one example; however, there are many. Next time you shop at a store, it is worth looking into the brand’s ethics.

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