Retailer Marks & Spencer, also known as M&S, is apologizing after a customer called out the London-based department store chain over what she says she saw as entrenched racism reflected in a product name.
Britain's The Mirror tabloid published an exclusive interview with the customer, who complained to M&S in June after seeing that a bra listing on the store's website listed light bra colors with "sweet" names such as "cinnamon" and "fudge" but that the one darker-colored bra was labeled as "tobacco."
The customer, identified only by their first name — Kusi — by M&S, was quoted as saying that she was shocked to see a word with such negative connotations used, and suggested the 136-year-old retailer use "cocoa, chocolate or caramel" as alternative color names, according to The Mirror.
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"Tobacco is referred to in society as bad, unhealthy, and highly likely to kill — ‘smoking kills’," the customer told The Mirror. They said that seeing "tobacco" as a product descriptor would make young women feel bad about themselves and "more alienated.
"This is an example of how bias is ingrained into society and only helps fuel racism, be it overt or covert, however in this instance this is a form of covert racism."
M&S responded swiftly to Kusi's criticism.
“In June we shared our commitments to being a truly inclusive place to shop and work and were honest that we have more to do and more to learn," M&S said in a statement emailed to TODAY Style. "As part of this, we are reviewing our ranges, supported by our BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) network, to ensure we have lingerie items that are flattering and suitable for all customers.
"All of our product colour names have been taken from a design colour palette used across the industry, but we agree with Kusi. We are changing the name of the bra colour and have written to Kusi to confirm that, and let her know that we’re sorry for not moving faster.”
Back in June, M&S shared a statement on Instagram that spoke to a "need to take urgent action and accelerate our diversity and inclusion strategy."
"Last week, we publicly acknowledged that respecting the silence of Blackout Tuesday was not good enough and that there is much more that needs to be done to truly understand and tackle systemic racism," read the post. M&S announced they were partnering with charities that would shine a spotlight on their "Community & Inclusion" causes, and that they looked to their customers to identify these organizations and the issues they care about.
Kusi's accusation comes at a time when many popular clothing brands are being accused of racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Employees have come forward at popular clothing companies to reveal the racism they say goes on behind closed doors and out in the open.
M&S also told TODAY Style that they are committed to being an inclusive place to shop. "For underwear, an inclusive offer for M&S means offering a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours and marketing them with a diverse group of models and with appropriate wording," continued the statement.
"In lingerie we don’t aim to completely match skin tones (as everyone is unique) and our offer will vary depending on the product but we want to offer items that are flattering and suitable for all our customers. This is something the team are already reviewing supported by our BAME network. As the UK’s biggest lingerie retailer this is an extensive review process but one we’re dedicated to getting right."
On the M&S U.K. website, which describes the bra in question as providing a "padded full-cup silhouette for a comfortable feel" and "finished with a pretty bow detail in the middle," the listing has already been updated. The new color name for the brown bra is now listed as "deep auburn." The former color name of "tobacco" remains on the M&S U.S. website.