LOS ANGELES — For more than a year, Los Angeles-based streetwear designer Tremaine Emory had been working with Converse on a red, green and black sneaker inspired by Jamaican political activist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African flag and artist David Hammons’ 1990 work “African-American Flag,” an original of which was acquired by the Broad museum in Los Angeles last year.
Emory’s brand, Denim Tears, tells the story of Black people in the United States starting in 1619, when the first documented enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia; according to the designer, the brand’s logo, a cotton plant, is a direct reference to slavery. That’s why the proposed packaging for his Converse sneaker collaboration depicts a coffin covered with Hammons’ flag and a cotton wreath, as a tribute to Black Americans who have died under unjust conditions. The image is based on an art installation, “A Proper Burial, Thanks America,” that Emory debuted in London last year.
However, in late May, as protests spread across the country after George Floyd’s death in police custody, Emory announced on Instagram that he and Denim Tears couldn’t go forward with the partnership until Converse’s parent company, Nike, went beyond its plan to donate $40 million over four years to support the Black community. (Michael Jordan, through his Nike subsidiary Jordan Brand, is donating an additional $100 million over 10 years.)
Emory called the move by Beaverton, Ore.,-based Nike, which reported $37.4 billion in revenue last fiscal year, a very expensive Band-Aid. He said he wanted to use his voice to push Nike to look inward at its own record on diversity and inclusion.
“It’s accountability,” Emory said in a phone interview. “It’s about Fortune 500 companies and how they are run under the guise of white supremacy and patriarchy and how I take accountability, that I need to see the steps and brands that I work with dispensing that or guys won’t work with me.”
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