Black Lives Matter recently celebrated five years in existence. And the movement, which started as an anti-police violence activist group, now has chapters in several cities and overseas. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) slogan has now become a fashion item with T-shirts selling briskly online.
According to Blackbusiness.org, the top-selling entrepreneur producing Black Lives Matter apparel generates about $5 million per year.
Nowadays, it seems that people want to make political statements with their outerwear. Nike capitalized on this by making former NFL player Colin Kaepernick the focus of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. After some initial pushback, with some anti-Kaepernick people burning their Nike wear, the campaign drew awareness and record sales.
However, some Black Lives Matter activists don’t necessarily think this form of activism is a bad thing.
Jamie Triplin, director of communications and development at the Howard University Graduate School, is a BLM activist. She supports people making a political statement with their clothing.
“Activism comes in many forms and often times items such as statement tees are a way to allow people across all races and ethnicities to publicly express their point of view,” she said. “I found that most non-black individuals usually do not purchase these items in support of black rights unless they are willing to take the political risk involved with touting the merchandise.”
Triplin added that BLM is this generation’s most prominent activist movement and compared it to the anti-lynching, Civil Rights and Black Power movements.
She added the movement had come a long way from being a hashtag. She said that “T-shirt activism” and awareness is an effective change agent. (BLM started as a hashtag created in the wake of the murder of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.)
“Society now receives information in real-time,” said Triplin. “All the multi-media immediately generated when situations erupt is what continues to drive people into action—even if it’s only cyclical. Because action within BLM can be cyclical, keeping the message strong is imperative during the ‘downtime.’ This is where commercialization can come into play.”
However, Arielle Egozi, a feminist writer, is more cautious about the growth of BLM fashion.
She said T-shirts drive awareness, but real political change requires a deeper cultural shift supported by a federal system that protects black Americans.
“Revolutions don’t come quietly, and aren’t made to make everyone feel safe,” said Egozi. “Revolutions are meant to disrupt and challenge and dismantle existing structures, and that doesn’t come from t-shirts or water bottles. Pins and hats won’t save black lives, but at least it has society talking about it, when for so long the silence was a deafening scream.”