As School Shootings Continue to Terrorize the Nation, a Fashion Label Callously Capitalizes on Tragedy

T-shirts mourning teen victims of gun violence hang on a fence in front of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School on February 14, 2019, on the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were killed.
Photo: Brendan Smialowski (AFP/Getty Images)

To date, there have been 22 school shootings in the United States in 2019, with 2018 the deadliest on record for school shootings—94 incidences of school gun violence were reported (h/t Vox). In fact, according to the Washington Post, more than 228,000 students have experienced gun violence in their schools since the Columbine shootings in 1999.

But apparently, fashion label Bstroy believes tragedy is a perfect fit for fashion. Last weekend, the label debuted bullet-riddled hoodies bearing the names of the sites of America’s most notorious school shootings—Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—on its menswear Spring-Summer 2020 runway, as reported by the New York Post.

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We’re guessing Bstroy subscribes to the tired line that any press is good press; that’s the only explanation possible for the utter callousness of the so-called “dystopia-inspired fashion house” (h/t the Post). Nevertheless, the brand’s designers, Brick Owens and Dieter “Du” Grams, attempted to spin their tastelessness with a pseudo-spiritual statement posted on Instagram:

Sometimes life can be painfully ironic. Like the irony of dying violently in a place you consider to be a safe, controlled environment, like school. We are reminded all the time of life’s fragility, shortness, and unpredictability yet we are also reminded of its infinite potential. It is this push and pull that creates the circular motion that is the cycle of life. Nirvana is the goal we hope to reach through meditation and healthy practices that counter our destructive habits. Samsara is the cycle we must transcend to reach Nirvana.

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“School shootings do not remind us of ‘life’s fragility’...” responded a top comment on the nonsensical post. “[T]hey remind of us terrorism caused by intentional propaganda and fear mongoring [sic]. That has nothing to do with nirvana or the cycle of life. This fake deep intellectual shit is just sloppy and lazy and has no ground in wisdom or productivity..Triggering people is not the same thing as starting conversation and making these wack ass hoodies is not the same as spreading awareness.”

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Survivors and family members of victims have also rightfully voiced their disgust, en masse. “My dead classmates dying should not be a f–king fashion statement,” wrote user @Kzaenzz in response to the Stoneman Douglas hoodie. Another Stoneman Douglas survivor, Kyle Kashuv, wrote, “I would just like to say, what actual the hell is wrong with you. Goddamn monetizing off a school shooting. Disgusting.”

“I lived through this,” wrote user @angelina_theboss, apparently also a survivor of Stoneman Douglas. “[T]o make money off of something pathetic like this is disgusting.. you don’t even know how it is to live everyday with reminders everywhere you go.. there’s so much trauma with no [sic] only myself but with thousands of other people who have experienced gun violence... this is disgusting.”

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“As a Sandy Hook family, what you are doing here is absolutely disgusting, hurtful, wrong and disrespectful,” wrote the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund, named for a teacher who died at Sandy Hook Elementary while protecting her students. “Our pain is not to be used for your fashion.”

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Coincidentally, as reported by USA Today, nonprofit anti-gun violence organization Sandy Hook Promise released its own provocative take on school shootings on Wednesday, reframing a stereotypical back-to-school ad as a chilling PSA on gun violence in schools.

“We don’t have to accept this as the new normal,” Nicole Hockley, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, told USA Today.

While some question the efficacy of creating a “shock video” to increase awareness and concern about school shootings, what is undeniably clear is that there is a world of difference between the attempts of survivors to prevent more senseless tragedies and a fashion label attempting to capitalize on them. As Instagram commenter @ktwilkes wrote:

There are so many ways to use fashion and clothing to make sociopolitical commentary—this isn’t it. How do you think the parents who saw their children’s clothing with bullet holes through them feel seeing this? Comforted? Empowered? As if we are on the precipice of change? I doubt all of the above. Being “edgy”, “turning up the heat”, or “starting a conversation” are also things you can leave un-checked on your list of KPI’s. There is nothing “painfully ironic” about this, or the slew of other hoodies you designed with the same lackluster train of thought in mind. Fashion being recognized as a legitimate medium of cultural commentary is stunted by the likes of this. And one last thing...what percentage of your profits from this collection went to victims or gun control efforts? My bet is little to none.

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About the author

Maiysha Kai

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.