The designer behind Target’s Pride Month collection has condemned the “religious right” critics after the items were allegedly removed by Target amid anti-LGBTQ threats. Despite the backlash, orders for his Pride collection has reportedly surged as people show their support for the designer.
This week, Target announced in a statement that it would be pulling some Pride merchandise from stores and its website after employees experienced “threats” over the items.
“Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and well-being while at work,” Target said in a statement to USA Today. “Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the centre of the most significant confrontational behaviour.”
Although the company did not specify which items it was removing, Reuters reported that the store pulled items from British designer Erik Carnell’s LGBTQ-focused brand Abprallen.
According to the report, the backlash stemmed from Carnell’s other merchandise, which includes images of “Satanic” symbols such as pentagrams.
As of Wednesday, searches for Abprallen merchandise yielded zero results on Target’s website. However, the company was previously selling a $25 sweater that read: “Cure transphobia not trans people,” a tote bag that read: “Too queer for here,” and a fanny pack emblazoned with: “We belong everywhere.”
On the Abprallen Instagram account, the designer – who is trans and gay – condemned the response that led to the decision to remove the items, while clarifying that the merchandise was created for Target’s adult section.
In the first of a series of posts to the brand’s Instagram Story, the designer shared two screenshots of the news headlines covering Target’s decision. “Not like there’s real problems in the world. Gotta talk about this instead. Satanic panic and transphobia running riot. Eighties mindset without the cool clothes,” Carnell wrote.
In another post, the designer said that, despite the “hundreds upon hundreds of hate messages,” articles and social media posts about him, he has “no intention to stop what [he’s] doing.”
“Your time is better spent taking care of the homeless in your area, ensuring your neighbour’s children are fed, making sure there’s enough money to pay doctors and teachers,” he wrote. “The passion you have is admirable, but it’s misplaced and wasted.
“I’ve been told I’m going to hell since I was 11, if I was going to change I would have done it by now … Please don’t waste your precious time engaging with a stranger on the internet, I have not and will not respond to any of you. Instead, support your local community, take care of your fellow man. There’s so much good you could be doing in this world, don’t let your time go to waste.”
Carnell then addressed the outrage over his Target collection, with the designer sharing a photo of the three items he’d created for the company’s adult section for Pride.
The designer also reflected on his partnership with Target, which he said began with the company informing him that some of his designs, such as “Satan Respects Pronouns,” would not be a good fit for the store.
“[Target] was observant enough and had the necessary critical thinking skills to realise that my use of occult imagery is as harmless as any horror movie targeted towards adults, but wanted my collection for adults to be a bit less gothic,” he said.
Carnell then condemned the “religious right,” which he claimed has “twisted the narrative so much that they have themselves convinced I was, via Target, selling my entire brand’s collection to children specifically”.
According to Carnell, this was “never the case”.
“I have no desire to sell or market my work to children. They don’t have money, for one thing,” he wrote.
The UK-based designer also said that he has “no desire to make any children trans or make any children gay,” as he noted that being transgender or gay is “not a choice [and] cannot be forced upon anyone”.
In his posts, Carnell then acknowledged the importance of “positive trans role models and visibility for young people,” before clarifying that he does not include himself in that category.
“I am not an activist or a spokesperson or a figurehead. I am an artist and designer,” he wrote.
Carnell also responded to suggestions that he is a “Satanist,” with the designer clarifying that he is not, nor does he believe in Satan. As for his designs, he said it’s “Camp, it’s fun, it’s metal”. “It’s a fairytale,” he added.
The London-born designer behind the brand then took the opportunity to thank all of those who have shared messages of support amid the controversy, as he noted that he has been “inundated with love and well wishes” and a “record number of sales” on his website.
“I feel so honoured that my community has come out in droves to support me, without me ever having asked,” he wrote.
As of Thursday (25 May), Carnell said his Etsy store and Abprallen website has been inundated with orders, so much so that he temporarily had to stop taking requests, according to Reuters. “Your support during this extremely difficult time means more than I can express,” Carnell wrote on the brand’s Etsy page.
In his series of Instagram posts shared yesterday, Carnell also defended Target’s staff, who “have no say whatsoever in the items Target carries,” from the “violence, threats, and hatred” being directed at them over the company’s Pride collection.
The designer concluded the posts by revealing that he does not know whether Target will begin selling the items he created for the company’s Pride collection again or “if the unjust backlash is not worth the risk of supporting the LGTBQ community”.
As for what he hopes people take away from the controversy, Carnell said he wants those in the LGBTQ community to focus on the “most marginalised members of our community instead of wasting time and energy on Target”.
In a statement from Abprallen shared with The Independent, Carnell, who described the partnership with Target as the “biggest opportunity” of his career to date, said he has been “incredibly negatively impacted emotionally” by the “false” narrative that his Target merchandise was meant for children.
The British company also said that Target has not reached out to Carnell about its decision to pull the merchandise from its Pride collection. According to Abprallen, Carnell was contacted by the company’s distributor, who let him know “after the fact”.
On social media, Target’s decision to remove items from its annual Pride collection has been met with backlash from customers, with many disappointed in the brand for “caving” to critics.
“Pretty disappointed with @Target for caving in and giving those bigots what they want. Removing Pride Merchandise off the floor? Get a grip,” one person tweeted, while another said: “Target pulling Pride merch and caving to homophobic backlash is honestly disgusting … If they wanna profit off Pride, the least they can do is stand their ground on this.”
In addition to criticism over the brand’s partnership with Carnell, the company has also faced backlash over a “tuck-friendly” bathing suit option. According to Reuters, the company is currently reviewing these items, but a decision has not yet been made.
Target’s annual Pride collection is typically well received, with the company unveiling more than 2,000 products ahead of Pride month this year.
The Independent has contacted Target for comment.
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