Ralph Lauren apologizes for using black fraternity's symbols on one of its designs

The use of the lettering prompted the start of an online petition demanding Ralph Lauren "do the right thing and recall, destroy and publicly apologize for trying to capitalize off of black culture."
Ralph Lauren store in the Luxury Fashion and Jewellery
Ralph Lauren Corp. has pulled a pair of chino pants featuring Greek letters that represent Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., from its online store.Getty Images

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/ Source: NBC News
By Janelle Griffith

Ralph Lauren Corp. has apologized after it was recently called out for the use of a black fraternity's symbols on one of its products. The company said the product is no longer available for sale.

An ad for a pair of the clothing brand's chino pants on Ralph Lauren's French website featured Greek letters that represent Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., which was founded at Howard University, a prominent historically black college in Washington, D.C., according to the fraternity's website.

The use of the lettering prompted the launch of a Change.org petition earlier this month demanding that the company "do the right thing and recall, destroy and publicly apologize for trying to capitalize off of black culture."

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The pants retailed for 299.99 euros, about $334 U.S. dollars, and featured the fraternity's symbols below the back right pocket of the product.

"We don't know who thought this was a good idea, but they need to fix it quick," the petition states, saying that Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. is a professional organization that is not for sale.

A legal representative for the fraternity said Tuesday that it was investigating the matter and that it was "shocked and appalled" that Ralph Lauren would violate the fraternity's trademarks without consent.

"Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. was founded in 1914 under the principles of brotherhood, scholarship and service," the representative said. "Our client’s brand symbolizes a brotherhood of diverse, college-educated men."

A spokeswoman for the fashion brand told NBC News in a statement Monday that the use of the symbols on its product was "an oversight" for which the company deeply apologizes and that it took immediate action to remove the product from sale.

The spokeswoman also said that while Ralph Lauren has a rigorous review process for its designs, this incident has prompted the company to take another look at its protocols to help ensure such a problem does not happen again.

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