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Prada employees to get racial-equity training following window display backlash

An agreement sprang from a 2018 incident when a civil rights lawyer posted pictures from a Prada store showing figurines with "racist and denigrating blackface imagery."
Chinyere Ezie
/ Source: NBC News

Luxury fashion brand Prada has agreed to take steps including racial-equity training for its employees in New York City and executives in Milan as part of a settlement with the city over a 2018 window display that included imagery deemed racist.

The agreement, announced Wednesday by the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which oversees the enforcement of the city's human rights laws in housing and retail, was a first for the city in which a brand is being held responsible for its imagery.

The agreement springs from an incident in 2018, when Chinyere Ezie, a civil rights lawyer, uploaded pictures to Facebook that showed the window of a Prada store in downtown New York filled with figurines that she described as "racist and denigrating blackface imagery."

"I don’t make a lot of public posts, but right now I’m shaking with anger," Ezie, who works at the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote on Facebook.

She said she entered the store, "only to be assaulted with more and more bewildering examples of their Sambo like imagery."

Following backlash, Prada released an apology.

"We would like to convey our deep regret and sincere apologies for the Pradamalia products that were offensive," the statement, posted on Twitter, read in part. The company also said it would donate proceeds from the products to an organization for racial justice and was "taking immediate steps to learn from this."

Ezie filed a formal complaint in January 2019 with the commission.

Designer Miuccia Prada, her husband Patrizio Bertelli and company chief executive Carlo Mazzi will all undergo training as part of the settlement with the commission.

The settlement was first reported by The New York Times. Prada did not acknowledge wrongdoing in the settlement. The brand did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

“Every day our staff strive to better the lives of New Yorkers and create lasting impact to strengthen human rights," Carmelyn P. Malalis, the city's human rights commissioner said in Wednesday's announcement. "Today’s conciliation does exactly that — it recognizes the harm of racist iconography, demands accountability from Italy to New York City, and charts a path forward to greater inclusion and respect for Black people."

The Prada merchandising was one in a series of recent racial faux pas from major fashion brands. Luxury brand Gucci stopped selling a $890 blackface sweater after facing criticism and claims of racism in February 2019.

Spike Lee and rapper T.I. said that month that they would boycott both Prada and Gucci until the brands hired black designers.

Alicia McCauley, a spokeswoman for the commission, said Thursday that the panel is in discussions with Gucci regarding its merchandising and advertising in New York City.

The New York settlement requires Prada to hire a permanent, executive-level diversity and inclusion officer whose responsibilities will include reviewing the brand's advertising and products sold in the United States, as well as reviewing and monitoring its anti-discrimination policies.