Rainbow Capitalism

Behind the scenes of corporate Pride downtown

| 22 Jun 2021 | 02:19

Walking through the Village in June means being surrounded by rainbows. Each year, more and more businesses have put up displays in honor of Pride Month, broadcasting their support of the LGBT community. Interestingly, these displays have become popular in recent years as LGBTQ rights have advanced and being out has become more socially acceptable, leading some to question the motives of the businesses. Are they trying to be allies to the community or just gain a few extra customers? Does it matter what their motives are as long as LGBTQ people feel safe? I visited several Soho and West Village businesses to find out more.

My first stop was Urban Outfitters, a company that caters to young millennials and Gen Z through a collection full of modern spins on nostalgic favorites; graphic tees often reference pop culture events that happened before the company’s target customers were born. Urban’s liberal leaning and young customers made a Pride display expected, and they did not disappoint. Giant letters spelling out HAPPY PRIDE filled up an entire window, surrounded by neon rainbow lights.

Inside, the store looked the same as it does the rest of the year. The employees didn’t know much about Urban’s policy during Pride Month or the company’s support of the LGBTQ community. Only one salesperson knew anything about the Pride display in front of the store, which was that it was commissioned by Urban’s resident display artist. No one knew anything about how many years the store has been doing Pride displays, or their policy towards LGBTQ support outside of window displays.

Urban Outfitters has been criticized for years over insensitive clothing items that are seen to trivialize serious conditions or make fun of marginalized communities. Most recently, they released a statement apologizing for past racial insensitivity and promising to “do more than what we’ve done to date.” The lack of employee knowledge on policies regarding marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community, however, may point to this being a surface-level apology instead of a marker of institutional change.

LGBTQ Employees

Urban Outfitters wasn’t the only business whose employees weren’t able to answer my questions. Maison Kitsune, a Paris-based music label and clothing boutique, had their Soho store decorated with cutesy rainbow designs and a placard promoting the Trevor Project, a LGBTQ charity, but their salesperson wasn’t given permission to answer my questions. Maison Kitsune’s website features plenty of rainbow apparel you can buy, but no mention of the Trevor Project or any other LGBTQ foundation. Beautycounter, a makeup boutique located on Prince St., highlights its LGBTQ employees on its website, along with the LGBTQ organizations it partners with, yet the salesperson I talked to wasn’t aware of any of this.

Anita Dongre, a clothing company based in Navi Mumbai, had a modest Pride window display, but no further information on the company’s actions towards the LGBTQ community. Their salesperson informed me that this was only the second year their New York location had started putting up displays for Pride, highlighting the surge in awareness by mainstream companies.

Some window displays, though, were extremely informative, making it easier to understand a company’s Pride policy. For instance, Canadian fashion boutique Aritzia boasts an impressive window display complete with a QR code that sends viewers to a webpage dedicated to information about the origins of pride, Aritizia’s pride partnerships, and its overall commitment to diversity. LGBTQ influencers wear Aritizia’s clothing items under descriptions of their goals for the community and issues they care about, while the letters in LGBTQ are all carefully defined. The webpage is hip, colorful, and almost overwhelming with how much information it throws at you – starting with Aritzia’s “continuous partnership with the Stonewall Community Foundation.” Information about the foundation itself is linked at the bottom of the page, along with a statement from Aritzia about how they’re committed to diversity and inclusion.

As this comprehensive display indicated, the company seems dedicated to preserving LGBTQ rights. And although their in-store employees couldn’t give me as much information as was online, they were very interested in what I was writing about, asking me about how I felt about the various Pride campaigns that can be found all over the city.

Jewelry Discounts

Other companies offered support in different, more concrete ways. TAI Jewelry, tucked away on Mott St., promised “20% off all rainbow jewelry all month long” on a blackboard outside the store. When I asked their retail manager about the company’s policy on Pride and their actions towards the LGBTQ community, she assured me that TAI has always shown support during Pride Month. Interestingly, this year is the first time TAI has offered a discount on jewelry, and it’s largely due to the pandemic: Business is still slower than usual, as many people have suffered a loss of income, so the discount both supports the LGBTQ community and a local shop.

The harsh reality is that even as restrictions ease, many businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and so must put profits before Pride – or, at least, monetary support of Pride. Businesses like TAI have tried to balance profit with something that benefits customers, but not all businesses can afford to do this. As I walked through the streets of the West Village, I saw rainbow flags everywhere I looked, even if the business displaying them had no other mention of Pride.

Some stores make it an effort to show support for the LGBTQ community year-round. I walked into McNally Jackson’s Nolita location wondering about their “Pride in Space” window display, only to discover that the collection was only one part of the bookstore’s efforts to be inclusive. Parish Turner, a salesperson at the bookstore, informed me that while the store’s LGBTQ sci-fi books were being showcased this month, McNally Jackson always has numerous LGBTQ books in-store and makes an effort to invite writers from diverse backgrounds for its events. While they aren’t associated with a specific nonprofit or charity, the literature on display shows a widespread acceptance and support of the community, strengthened by the fact that in-person employees are aware of company policy.

Still, there was one thing I was unsure about. “Why space?” I asked.

Turner shrugged. “It’s fun!”

I had to agree.