The fast fashion brand Shein has launched a collection of clothing and accessories inspired by Frida Kahlo and her artworks. The line has been met with controversy because the collaboration was made with the licensing company Frida Kahlo Corporation, who have been disputing with Kahlo’s family for more than a decade over trademark and property rights.
Many people believe that brands using deceased celebrities and public figures is a difficult subject to have a definitive stance on. The common consensus seems to be that the morality of the collaboration is dependent on the situation and the intentions of the brand.
Journalism student, Kaylee Abrahams, who is interested in the intersection of fashion and ethics expanded on this, “I think it all depends on whether it’s coming from a place of appreciation for that person, and whether they’ve had it approved by the families. If they haven’t then I think it’s in bad taste because obviously they’re making money off of someone dead. You know it’s just wrong. Where as if the family is all for it and everything and it’s all to appreciate that person and say how amazing they were then it’s different.”
All in all, there seems to be more acceptance when people know the celebrity’s family was involved or compliant. When asked specifically if the families should control the licensing, trademarks and property rights, Abrahams said, “One hundred percent, yeah. I think so. I think if you look at people like Michael Jackson and how a lot of his clothing and pieces have been auctioned off. The family kind of didn’t have a say in that…the families didn’t have the rights to have those clothes, so I think things like that, yeah families should always have a say, because they were the closest people to them.”
According to Kaylee Abrahams, this situation with Michael Jackson is another example of the misuse of a deceased celebrity’s licensing and trademark. Michael Jackson and Frida Kahlo’s situation also highlights a trend in which women and people of colour have a higher likelihood of having their trademarks and legacies be abused or exploited.
Abraham believes racism and sexism are involved in Kahlo’s case, “The way they’re presenting her, and obviously the stereotypical use of Mexicans, and things like that, and having the models do the eyebrows- things like that I think it’s more like cultural appropriation rather than you know they’re not doing it in the right way. Yeah, I think it’s more of like a misuse of her brand.”
However, despite the backlash it is unforeseeable that the figures’ rights will be respected, and on top of that it is even more unlikely that powerful companies like Shein will see any repercussions.
“For Shein it’s not really surprising. I think they have been quite controversial in the sense that they, you know we’ve got the whole fast fashion thing and the whole thing with slave workers. So, I think this sort of thing doesn’t surprise me. I think they’re a massive brand, but at the same time they know that they will always sell clothes, so something like this controversy I think they still know they’re going to sell clothes regardless.”
The Frida Kahlo Corporation allowing Shein in particular to profit off of Frida Kahlo’s legacy is especially concerning to some, and raises many questions about the corporations’ intentions and respect for the artist. This is because Shein’s reputation, as briefly mentioned, includes disregarding workers’ rights, allegations of slave labor, and major contributions to overconsumption. All of which directly contradict with Kahlo who was a communist that advocated for the working class.
The recent collaboration between the Frida Kahlo Corporation and Shein has been regarded as controversial for numerous reasons. This disregard towards Kahlo’s family is concerning to many, however the situation has brought to light other problems as well, such as sexism and racism when it comes to deceased celebrities licensing, and once again reevaluating the ethics of fast fashion brands like Shein.