Some shoppers balk at retailers selling new ‘Juneteenth’ merchandise

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NEW YORK, June 19 (Reuters) – Clothing retailer Kohl’s is offering gray, green and red “Juneteenth 1865” tank tops and T-shirts for juniors and boys for $23.99. JCPenney.com hopes to entice shoppers with dozens of wall hangings featuring abstract graphic designs and silhouettes of black women, priced at $60 to $160 each.

In the first major push to market Juneteenth, commemorated by blacks for generations as the day in 1865 a Union general informed a group of slaves in Texas that they were free, a handful of major retailers are rolling out goods.

But some of the products, from cotton tank tops with red, yellow and green American flags, to lawn accessories with slogans such as “Freedom”, are raising eyebrows among shoppers who accuse retailers of exploiting Juneteenth to profit of President Joe Biden in June. 19 a federal holiday in 2021.

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In May, Walmart (WMT.N) began marketing pints of a new “Celebrated Edition” red velvet and Juneteenth Ice Cream cheesecake until complaints surfaced on Twitter, prompting Walmart to pull it. .

“I just saw Pride and Juneteenth ice cream at Walmart, I think we’re in the wrong place,” one Twitter user posted on June 11.

Walmart said in a statement in May that the retailer had “received feedback that a few items were of concern to some of our customers.” The retailer apologized and said it would remove the items as appropriate.

Walmart.com also sells a range of children’s books on the Juneteenth story, as well as dozens of t-shirts.

Dollar Tree (DLTR.O) also drew criticism on social media for selling Juneteenth party decorations in non-traditional colors in May. The decorations are made by vendors who are not descendants of slaves themselves, according to the National Assembly of Descendants of American Slavery, an advocacy group that supports reparations for Black American descendants of slavery. . Dollar Tree did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

PROMOTING BLACK SUPPLIERS

Connie Ross, vice president and president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Empower Consulting, said Walmart and other brands should use the holidays to promote black sellers.

“Juneteenth wasn’t born out of a pretty story, but give it time, and people will find a way to associate it with something positive,” Ross said.

Ross expects more companies to “soften” the meaning of Juneteenth by avoiding its ties to the history of slavery.

Liz Rogers, black founder of Creamalicious ice cream which is sold at Walmart, Target (TGT.N) and Kroger (KR.N), said none of her retail clients have approached her about partnerships or events in the June 19 and often had to pitch companies to get on their shelves.

JCPenney’s director of merchandising, Michelle Wlazlo, said the company will donate all net proceeds from the sale of its Juneteenth merchandise to Unity Unlimited, a nonprofit that says it helps communities “overcome racial and cultural divide. “. Wlazlo said JCPenney looks at customer feedback, traditional holidays and other factors to determine promotional events.

Brian Packer of PR agency Golin said brands looking to leverage Juneteenth should find ways to elevate the products and services made by people in these communities. He said it was more complex than “putting a Black Power Fist on something”.

Alternatively, there can also be downsides to messages that are too subtle. In the product question area of ​​JCPenney.com’s $30 Juneteenth framed canvas, a series of orange shapes on a white background, one person asked, “What does this have to do with Juneteenth?”

Target, headquartered in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed by police, first recognized Juneteenth in 2020 as an official annual company holiday after nationwide protests against police brutality spread. The company has provided internal resources detailing the history of Juneteenth and a list of community events for employees to attend. Workers can also take a day off or work overtime, he said.

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Reporting by Arriana McLymore; edited by Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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