Every year in Pride month, we see retailers coming out with Pride collections. Unfortunately, while some of these collections benefit the queer community and donate money to LGBTQ+ causes, many corporations instead benefit from rainbow capitalism efforts. Essentially, they take over the spaces intended for queer people. To make matters worse, fashion brands with alarming human rights violations and poor environmental track records are creating Pride merch that only benefits their company’s profits and harms the LGBTQ+ community.
This article will explore some of the worst fashion brands participating in rainbow capitalism.
What Is Rainbow Capitalism?
Rainbow capitalism, also known as pink capitalism, is when companies claim to support LGBTQ+ causes and communities but are actually making merchandise for-profit and trying to capitalize on the trend. In other words, it is more about corporate interests and profit than genuinely supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
As a result, instead of queer issues being at the center of Pride events, it becomes about capitalism. Overall, rainbow capitalism makes Pride less about protests, rights, and freedom and instead becomes a way to make money for their businesses.
You can read more about Rainbow Capitalism in our blog post What is Rainbow Capitalism and Why is it Harmful?
Retailers that Engage in Rainbow Capitalism
Here are some of the worst offenders when it comes to rainbow capitalism:
Target gets called out every year for participating in “rainbow capitalism” since they profit off the commodification of the queer community, especially during Pride month.
In 2021, Target’s Pride collection was critiqued for being “ugly” and dated.
For 2022 Pride, Target decided to use seven LGBTQ+ artists’ designs in its collection. These items included genderless underwear and swimsuits, chest binders, and packing boxers. However, even though this line was more well-received among customers, LGBTQ+ consumers were also disappointed that it was only available during Pride month and not year-round.
In 2023, Target came under fire again for its Pride collection because of violent outbursts from customers. The company featured rainbow apparel for children and tuck-friendly swimsuits for adults, as well as sweatshirts and tote bags for adults that said “Live laugh lesbian,” “Cure transphobia not trans people,” “Too queer for here” and “We belong everywhere.” Many anti-LGBTQ+ people took issue with these items. Unfortunately, instead of standing up to bullies, Target removed some of the LGBTQ+-friendly clothing from its stores.
Matt Bernstein (mattxiv on Instagram) does an excellent job of explaining how Target could have done better and how they shouldn’t have catered to anti-LGBTQ+ behavior:
SHEIN and Boohoo
It’s no secret that retailers SHEIN and Boohoo both have various human rights violations and poor environmental track records. When you think about it, these brands are profiting off Pride, which started as a riot against police brutality and worldwide Pride events aim to fight oppression every year.
These brands have more to gain for themselves than supporting LGBTQ+ communities. For example, launching Pride collections makes them look like they have a positive brand image when they are just distracting everyone from the harmful practices they engage in throughout the year.
Sometimes, some corporations will provide monetary support for queer causes in their campaigns. For example, in 2021, Abercrombie & Fitch donated more than £150,000 to crisis support nonprofit The Trevor Project. In 2022, Dr. Martens pledged more than £200,000 to LGBTQ+ charities.
However, many of these companies will provide vague statements, so it’s impossible to know how some of these collections benefit LGBTQ+ communities. In other words, the amount of profits that comes from Pride merchandise and actually goes to LGBTQ+ causes is not always known, especially since brands are usually not fully transparent. For example, in 2021, H&M launched its “Beyond the Rainbow” campaign, committing to donating more than £70,000 to the United Nations Free & Equal Campaign. However, the press release did not emphasize how much the company itself would profit from Pride-themed merchandise. In years prior, H&M had donated only a minimal amount of proceeds – about 10% -from Pride collections.
SHEIN and Boohoo are even worse, seeing as the only thing the LGBTQ+ community gets from these companies are slogans and designs on t-shirts, with no money going to LGBTQ+ artists or charities.
So, how can you support LGBTQ+ people and avoid rainbow capitalism?
There are many ways you can support LGBTQ+ people during Pride without having to purchase merchandise from corporations only looking to profit off LGBTQ+ people. Here are some ideas:
- Support local LGBTQ+ artists, creatives, designers, and makers.
- Upcycle garments you already own
- Organize a clothing swap for Pride
- Rewear Pride merch from past events
- Donate directly to LGBTQ+ organizations
Even though fast fashion items can be more affordable, they take away from LGBTQ+ artists making money during Pride. Pride can be a very profitable month for queer creatives, so finding and supporting local artists is essential.
Even though some fast fashion brands pledge a percentage of their profits to queer organizations, the funding will be more useful by donating directly. That way, you won’t be helping corporations profit financially from Pride.
Seeing portrayals of the LGBTQ+ community in products can seem optimistic. Still, if a corporation isn’t committed to LGBTQ+ rights year-round, you could take other steps to support the queer community. This is especially important during Pride month, when you can buy things from queer artists instead of retailers trying to profit off LGBTQ+ people.
Until corporations actually take steps to support LGBTQ+ people fully, rainbow capitalism will continue to exploit queer people in the process.
Follow our wellness and lifestyle blog at LGBTQ and All so that you can stay up-to-date on all things LGBTQ+. We will have plenty of exciting content to bring to you during Pride month and year-round.
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