To mark the UN-anointed International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21), underwear brand Björn Borg released its first-ever Skin Collection. The idea behind the collection is to prove that nude underwear should be all-inclusive but the shade is often intended for white skin only. According to the company’s website, 84% of people around the globe have a skin tone that’s different from the nude colors offered in stores. The six shades of the Skin Collection offer a sleek and diverse array of nude underwear to combat the problem.
I can’t help but wonder if this is a necessary step forward for diversity in fashion or if it’s a superficial move with no other objective than to drive profits by appealing to a wider customer base.
When it comes to the men’s market, this isn’t really a concern. Unless you’re a soap opera actor involved in a weeklong love scene, nude underwear really has no place in your daily life. Though Björn Borg does include a full Skin Collection range for men, it seems a bit unnecessary.
"Unless you’re a soap opera actor involved in a weeklong love scene, nude underwear really has no place in your daily life."
For women, it seems to have a bit more significance. A quick stroll through any department store’s lingerie department will reveal that nude bras and panties are big business. And true to what the underwear company reports, most versions of nude tones are intended for white skin. A move to offer the nude experience for all women is a move in the right direction.
While any efforts for inclusion are always welcome, offering a for profit nude underwear collection seems to undermine the real importance of the International Day. This social holiday is about battling global racism. This year, the UN used the day to revisit the promise of The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, a groundbreaking document adopted at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in South Africa. It’s about providing equal human rights for everyone politically, socially, economically, and culturally. Human rights experts have argued that little progress has been made since the adoption of Durban Declaration. And the intent of this year’s International Day is to jumpstart new efforts.
"Discrimination on a global scale is far more severe than a lack of nude underwear choices."
Odds are, human rights activists won’t be too impressed with Björn Borg’s product move for diversity. While the Skin Collection represents acknowledgment of a diverse customer base, the UN is, of course, thinking much bigger. Discrimination on a global scale is far more severe than a lack of nude underwear choices. It manifests itself in a person’s inability to get a job or secure equal pay or feel safe in his or her community.
If Björn Borg really wanted to make an impact on global inclusion and not just reap the benefits of SEO-based web traffic on the International Day, the company should have donated some portion of its Skin Collection profits to a global organization that’s fighting racism like IMADR, the International Movement Against All Forms Of Discrimination And Racism. Or perhaps the Skin Collection could have been released on a different day. After all, the company’s mission is admirable, but its product launch execution is where the problem lies. Commerce and activism can, at times, work side by side. But this isn’t an example of that.
Wearing a pair of brown underwear does not soothe my worries about racism. At a time where a company can tweet about their products and tag it with #FightRacism, as Björn Borg has done, it indicates a false sense of understanding social change. It’s surface-level. It’s insignificant. It’s shallow. Sell whatever shade of underwear you please, but don’t piggyback on the monumental cause of an extremely serious day just to move units.