Big Uncle: Italian fashion label accused of racism over new 'colonialism' collection

'As stylists, not as historians, we live in a liquid society... where many references have changed, just as the use and perception of words have changed'

Under fire: Big Uncle's 'Colonialism' sweater has received widespread criticism
Under fire: Big Uncle's 'Colonialism' sweater has received widespread criticism

An Italian fashion label has attracted criticism from around the world after releasing a new collection taking inspiration from a historical period of empire-building associated with slavery and genocide.

Big Uncle, a Milan-based clothing firm for men, denies endorsing "a historical bloody period full of atrocities", but describes its new "Colonial Deal" range as a "short and intense journey in the West [sic] former colonies in order to understand the Colonialism style", adding "[some of] the linen is rough like the faces consumed by the sun". Among the items in the range is a jumper emblazoned with the word "colonialism".

Mireille Harper launched a petition demanding the line be axed after encountering it online which has gathered hundreds of signatures from around the world.

After contacting Big Uncle to complain, the 23-year-old writer said she was "disgusted" with the response she received, which said the firm was inviting customers to "think about it".

“As a woman who has lived, studied and has family who live in Italy, I felt obligated to address this," she told The Independent.

Controversial: The SS18 'Colonial Deal' collection 

“Whether Big Uncle’s views are misguided or downright racist, I cannot argue, however they appear to have a complete lack of understanding for people of colour who continue to live with the intergenerational trauma that lingers today in all pockets of society, particularly in their own country of origin, Italy, where racism, prejudice and discriminatory behaviour continues, with the most recent migrant shooting in Macerata being a stark reminder of this.”

Colonialism is defined as a country or government taking a land by political or military force, then exploiting its resources, manpower and wealth. Indigenous populations around the world were decimated and enslaved by European countries expanding their territories over a period of hundreds of years that lasted into the 20th century. At its height in 1922, the British Empire encompassed a fifth of the world's population and quarter of its land.

Ms Harper's campaign has received support from more than 500 people, including independent online magazine for people of colour Gal-dem, American vlogger Tia Taylor and authors Yomi Adegoke and Nikesh Shukla.

A Big Uncle spokesman defended the collection, claiming it was not glorifying the bloodshed and cultural hegemony of imperialism but celebrating the ‘XIX century’s clothing style’. He added writing colonialism on a T-shirt did not mean to celebrate the historical period, but was intended to get people to reflect on it.

He said: “We are really sorry if the name of our collection “Colonial Deal” has caused such a stir and indignation. We didn’t mean to use a fashion collection to glorify a historical bloody period full of atrocities. We did not want to offend anyone and we deeply apologise if we did.

“Big Uncle designers are not racists, fascists, Nazis or colonialists, they believe in freedom of thought and in the superiority of thought over any form of violence, abuse, imposition and oppression.

“We only want to say that as stylists, not as historians, we live in a liquid society (Zygmund Bauman) where many references have changed, just as the use and perception of words have changed. Writing “COLONIALISM” on a T-shirt doesn’t mean to celebrate that historical period, but instead it wants people to reflect on it.

“Big Uncle loves colonial style and it is against all forms of colonialism.”

Big Uncle is not the only clothing brand to cause controversy in this manner.

Marc Jacobs was accused of cultural appropriation following its use of dreadlocks at its Spring 2017 show in New York.

H&M was also forced to issue an apology after it released an advert depicting a black child wearing a monkey jumper.

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