As a teen, my favorite place to shop was Zara. We didn't have the store in Minneapolis where I grew up but on trips to the Big Apple, I'd stop in to browse and sometimes buy their funky, affordable clothes. Eventually, Zara, a Spanish company with locations across the world including 22 stores in Israel, expanded and opened up across the U.S.
Cut to, 20 years later, scrolling through social media this morning, my jaw dropped as I spotted a post about a Zara toddler-aged boy's shirt--a blue and white striped shirt with a six-pointed yellow star in the top right corner. The article of clothing had the word "sheriff" emblazoned on it, but the first thought that came to my mind wasn't a cute sheriff make-believe shirt.
Rather, the image the shirt reminded many of us of was all too real, bearing a striking resemblance to the yellow Star of David mandated by Nazis for Jews to wear in concentration and death camps during the Holocaust.
Zara, known for its provocative clothing, announced today, that it has removed the stock of the shirt from its warehouses and plans to destroy it, according to the JTA. In a statement, Zara said "We express our sincerest apologies for any hurt to our customers' feelings." The store said the inspiration for the shirt came from Western movie classics, not from the Holocaust.
Even after an apology, I still don't get it. I don't necessarily think that Zara was intentionally trying to conjure up images of the most painful chapter in history for the Jewish people. I don't work in fashion, but I can imagine at any corporation, there has to be a thorough approval process before an item can hit store shelves. And yet here we are talking about it.
My guess is the shirt in question has less to do with anti-Semitism, and more to do with stupidity. But I don't think that clears Zara of responsibility. Even if you've never met a Jewish person before, the yellow star, not to mention the stripes, is the most recognizable symbol of the Holocaust--well that and the swastika.
Speaking of, back in 2007, in a similar uproar, Zara removed a handbag with embroidered swastikas, bags that were manufactured in India, and inspired by commonly used Hindu symbols, which include the swastika.
Jews aren't the only minority targeted in Zara's merchandise. Recently, Zara was accused of racism for selling a t-shirt with the slogan, "White is the new black." Seriously?
Zara isn't the only store at fault. Urban Outfitters Inc., another clothing chain known for its similarly provocative merchandise, has been called out many times over the years for crossing way over the line. The chain has sold items offensive to minorities, including many that promote unhealthy body image for girls, like a shirt that says bluntly: "Eat Less."
Two years ago, Urban Outfitters removed from its shelves a men's shirt with an image on the breast pocket that evokes a strong resemblance to the Star of David, similar to today's shirt in question.
And back in 2004, the chain stopped selling a t-shirt, part of a line of ethnic t-shirts, that declared "Everyone Loves a Jewish Girl," surrounded by dollar signs and purses. After being flooded with complaints, the company redesigned the shirts sans those offensive symbols.
That shirt was appalling to me too. As a young Jewish woman, I find the JAP image repulsive and hurtful, and the antithesis of Jewish values.
Time and time again, these stores have messed up and apologized. But "sorry" doesn't erase the damage that's been done and is still happening.
And, especially now, after a frightening summer that saw a reemergence of anti-Semitism in a way not seen since World War II, we need to take these types of incidents all the more seriously.
So let's find the silver lining in this. Let's use this latest incident as a teaching moment.
The employees at these companies, or maybe at all companies, could use a little education. Perhaps some sensitivity training and a few history lessons on subjects like racism, feminism, and anti-Semitism. Or maybe they could benefit from time with one of the incredible Holocaust survivors who are sharing their stories, while they are still living.
Because I really can't stand to think about what the next t-shirt they take off the shelves is going to look like.