An American entertainer @missRnB visiting Toronto, walked through Yorkville and noticed a storefront display at a boutique store Eton of Sweden, that triggered her to take a photo and post it her social network with the question : “Ummm… Do you see??? What are they advertising for the Eton shop in Toronto, Canada??” – twitter.com/missRnB/statuses/497473230513270784
Picture this – a cotton shirt amidst the visual recreation a cotton plantation from the slavery era including two nooses hanging from the store’s ceiling attached to a small suitcase resembling a casket, and surrounded by a replica of an unpicked cotton field in a street-level showroom to persuade and influence buyers. What was described by Eton of Sweden as “Whimsical” in appealing to its consumers purchasing decision, is nothing short of a lack of sensitive consideration to the brutal, exploitative and destructive legacy of plantation slavery that enslaved millions of Blacks on cotton plantations from the 1600s to the 1800s.
During the era of Black enslavement, enslaved Blacks toiled on cotton plantations under the whip, hunger, ill health for no compensation. By using the ropes tied in the form of two nooses, Eton of Sweden in Yorkville, display reminded those knowledgeable of the slavery era of lynching, which was part and parcel of the imperial ‘show and tell’ of that bygone era. The impact of slavery is described in an OpEd written in 2007 by the current president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations entitled “Slavery’s Long Destructive Legacy” accessible online at www.thestar.com/opinion/2007/03/24/slaverys_long_destructive_legacy.html
Reacting to public outrage and public condemnation of Black Canadian community leaders who stood outside the store and spoke against the historical offence of the display, an employee of the Eton of Sweden store removed the rope and display. They took down the noose, but the harm is incalculable.
The store needs to develop a better understanding of the destructive legacy of slavery and its longstanding racist impact that continues 180 years after emancipation. Using such a display to sell cotton shirts was a retailing advertising failure on the part of Eton of Sweden Yorkville location, and their lack of knowledge of its connection to the exploitation, pain and suffering that generations of Blacks experienced on cotton plantations in order to enrich slave owners, is inexcusable.
A full public apology is required from Eton of Sweden in Yorkville.
Following our Open Letter, on August 10th, Eton of Sweden posted on their website a brief note titled “Our deepest apologies for the Yorkville window instalment” which can be accessed online at: www.etonshirts.com/ca/press/eton-window-installment-in-yorkville-canada
We reviewed their apology and believe that they will have a lot of work to do to restore trust and confidence in their brand. We do not see any indication of a progressive approach to building harmonious relationships nor measurable commitment to the full diversity of Toronto. Questions that still remain unanswered include: How will they address and repair the systemic issues of racial insensitivity of the display towards Blacks?
Urban Alliance on Race Relations
Dear Mr. Pieters,
On behalf of Eton and our employees in Canada and worldwide, I extend my most sincere apology for all offense caused to you and the Canadian community by the recent window in our Yorkville office. Our company’s history is one of equal respect and appreciation of all people. It is important you know that our Canadian team had no malicious intent in constructing this window display. As described in our recent press release responding to public concern over this occurrence, the window was intended to simply show our raw material, cotton displayed with a suitcase representing the travel-readiness of our product. But in reality, it was a poor choice of both materials and design. The fact that the finished result reminded anyone who saw or read about it of the terrible memory of slavery as you describe in your letter, makes the entire Eton family very sad and remorseful. Additionally, the fact that our Canadian team did not immediately recognize that the display could in any way be associated with such a sensitive subject, reminds us that training is needed for our team in order to avoid anything like this again in the future.
Eton of Sweden
EDITORS’ NOTE: Any adjustments or edits to the above letters were for grammatical purposes only.