Ralph Lauren apologizes after using letters of black fraternity on pants without their consent

Francis Akhalbey January 10, 2020
Ralph Lauren apologized after using the letters of a black fraternity on its chinos without their consent -- Left Photo Credit: Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity | Right Photo via Watch the Yard

American fashion company Ralph Lauren finds itself in hot waters after being accused of cultural appropriation for using the letters of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity on chinos that were put up for sale without their consent.

According to Watch the Yard, the pants, which cost around $331, featured several designs and symbols with the letters of the fraternity printed on the back.

The Phi Beta Sigma fraternity was founded in 1914 at Howard University by African-American students A. Langston Taylor, F. Morse and Charles I. Brown with the aim of exemplifying “the ideals of brotherhood, scholarship, and service.”

Ralph Lauren apologizes after using letters of black fraternity on pants without their consent
Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity — Photo Credit: phibetasigma1914.org

After members of the fraternity got wind of the reported illegal use of their letters, a petition was launched demanding Ralph Lauren cease from selling the chinos with their letters.

“We are a week away from 106th anniversary of the founding of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. and what is plastered all over Social Media? Members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., an illustrious organization stared & shared in utter disbelief!” the petition read.

“One member said ‘this is copyright infringement at its finest, they have no permission using my letters to sell their pants.’ Did we mention, these pants are selling for 299.99€? If Polo is using these beloved letters so freely, where are the royalties going? To whom did they ask & get permission to use these letters, and why did they feel so comfortable doing this?” they asked.

Ralph Lauren apologizes after using letters of black fraternity on pants without their consent
Photo via Watch the Yard

“We are demanding that Ralph Lauren do the right thing and RECALL, DESTROY, & PUBLICLY APOLOGIZE for trying to capitalize off of Black Culture! We don’t know WHO thought that this was a good idea; but they need to fix it quick!  Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.is a professional Organizations that are not for sale!”

Subsequently, a Ralph Lauren spokesperson issued a statement to Watch the Yard rendering an apology and also confirming the chinos would be pulled off their shelves.

“The use of these symbols on our products was an oversight for which we deeply apologize. We are immediately taking action to remove the product from our sales channels. While we have a rigorous review process in place for all of our designs, this has prompted us to take another review of our protocols to help ensure that this does not happen again,” the statement read.

“As an American brand with more than 50 years of heritage, Ralph Lauren is inspired by many facets of American culture. As part of this, we are firmly committed to respectful and appropriate use of all cultural icons and insignias.”

They also said they have contacted the fraternity. As at the time of this report, the chinos are no longer available for sale.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: January 10, 2020


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