Phat Buddha, a New York based active wear brand recently released a pair of leggings called Rikers Island which is named after one of the country’s largest municipal jails located at the East River between the Bronx and Queens. There’s a deep-seated culture of violence against teen inmates in this jail and based on a report from the U.S. attorney, staff at Rikers Island “routinely utilize force not as a last result, but instead as a means to control the adolescent population.” Even governor Andrew Cuomo has described Rikers Island jail as “savage” and “inhumane” and called on the government to shut it down. Therefore, this inappropriate name is highly debated on the social media and some people hold the idea that Phat Buddha doesn’t take the violence issue at Rikers Island seriously and regards it as a trendy thing to attract the public’s attention.
According to a representative for the company, all items sold by Phat Buddha are named after New York City streets or landmarks and Rikers Island is indeed located within those five well-known boroughs. Besides, in response to the overwhelming criticism on social media, Phat Buddha released the following statement to clarify the story behind the Rikers Island style: “For those of you in the know, in 1957, Northeast flight 823 crashed into Rikers Island. That day, 20 people lost their lives and 78 people were injured. The name Rikers Island was chosen and the leggings [were made] in red to honor and remember those who lost their lives in this tragic event.”
Rikers Island is a place where youth from all over the New York metropolitan are sent to go and there are roughly 490 or 500 or so adolescents aged of 16 to 18 currently in this jail. Before reading this news on the Refinery29, I have no idea about Rikers Island even I’ve been living in the New York City for more than 8 months. Then after reading several articles and watching a report from PBS, I was shocked by the fact that nearly 44 percent of male teens between 16 and 18 years old have been subjected to force at least once while in custody and a striking number of serious injuries, including broken jaws and bone fractures. Besides, Benjamin Weiser who covered this story for New York Times mentioned a case that a female corrections officer once punched an inmate in the ribs using handcuffs when he had fallen asleep in class, kicked him while he was down on the floor and then sprayed his eyes with pepper spray.
Frankly speaking, for a clothing brand, I don’t think it is a wise idea to touch such a sensitive civil rights issue. Even if at the beginning, Phat Buddha had a great wish to memory a tragic air crash using this name instead of reminding people of the violence against teens criminals, it doesn’t provide related content to clarify its style and design on the website. Therefore, consumers can only get a violent story based on its name and color.
Under the description, Phat Buddha only provides fabric information, washing instruction and key features. In the front page, consumers still can’t find necessary content to explain the way it names all the products. Besides, those leggings are selling in both blue and red. Although red is quite ordinary color for leggings but it can be extraordinary disturbing when you relate this color to violence, especially when they happen to know the negative news of the Rikers Island.
Content marketing tells story with purpose to attract, acquire, and engage target audience and it aims at creating emotional connections between brands and consumers. For an online selling clothing, storytelling is more significant due to the fact that consumers cannot touch the products, feel the fabric as well as distinguish a brand from its competitors. For the sake of that, brands are expected to stand out using appealing but appropriate stories. In this case,Phat Buddha hasn’t paid sufficient attention to content marketing and also delivered a wrong message using an inappropriate story.
Just as one of my favorite quotes from Jay Baer-“Content is fire and social media is gasoline.” Content marketing can make you thrive but can also burn you down.