Anthropologie Pulls Racist “Artisan” Candlesticks Off Website

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Hey, it’s not racist if you turn it around

Well, sort of. At the time this was written they were merely turned around.

In a bizarre snafu that has managed to offend many customers who have maxed out their credit cards by shopping in their overpriced stores, the retailer Anthropologie pulled a line of tacky $400 candlesticks that many media outlets and bloggers described as racist.

After a rash of blistering coverage from BuzzFeed to Huffington Post, the company decided to quell the outrage by taking the candlesticks off of its site. Well, not really. Even though the products are no longer available on Anthropologie.com, the pictures are still on the website–the catch is that the offending candlesticks are turned around so that no one can see the black “mammy” figurine that at one time was a Washington D.C. souvenir.

The results have been a public relations nightmare for Anthropologie–an awful gift that relentlessly keeps on giving. First, the company sent out a pallid announcement that threw the “independent artisan” who designed these candlesticks under the bus. Anthropologie’s communications department claimed that only two were “extremely inappropriate” and removed them from their website. The only problem is that while they are no longer for sale while Anthropologie’s HR department dials for an emergency cultural sensitivity course, someone monitoring the website only turned the candlesticks around.

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One of many reactions on Facebook

Naturally there has been a rather noisy outcry on the company’s Facebook page, which the company chooses to ignore in favor of promoting items such as its Geo Burnout Velvet Dress and Puckered Placket Pullover. Customers have not been impressed; in fact, the more money they have spent at the store the more offended they appear to be. And as with the case with Safeway last May, sparks like this light a fire that spotlights other issues: Anthropologie’s customers are hashing out customer service complaints, and the fact their models are overwhelmingly white.

The whole racist candlesticks episode, to paraphrase Anthropologie, is quite “unfortunate.” The company has supported social enterprise efforts in the past, such as working with artisans in Rwanda who made hand-knitted scarves. Yes, real artisans–not an “artisan” who decided a figurine kebab of a black mammy, a JFK bell (Caroline Kennedy is ticked, I’m sure) and an “Asian” knickknack that looks as if it was lifted from Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride. The two-foot high candlesticks were already a case study of a hot glue gun craft project gone awry; now some poor thrift shop buying decisions and dubious quality control has gotten a company in hot water. This may end up as a case where the cover up, or turn around, is worse than the original crime.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: Anthropologie

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). He is currently living and working in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.