A woman was left shocked when shopping for bras at Marks & Spencers when she saw a bra advertised under the shade ‘tobacco’, whilst lighter shades were labelled under ‘cinnamon’ and ‘fudge’.
Marks & Spencers has been accused of “covert racism” due to the bras available at its store and its descriptions.
Kusi Kamani, from East Sussex, was left in disbelief when she found a bra shade labelled on the Marks & Spencer’s website as “tobacco”.
Meanwhile, the lighter shades of the £12 padded collection from Marks & Spencers were described as “cinnamon” and “fudge”.
The 29-year-old believes that the description of the bra which was suited for her skin tone has negative connotations, whilst bras suited for lighter skin tones were deemed more positive.
Despite making a complaint about the description of the bra, the Marks & Spencer website continued to describe the bra as “tobacco” on its site.
However, when the company was approached by the Mirror, an apology was issued and a statement was released which said that the brand was apologetic that they hadn’t acted sooner.
Kusi told Mirror Online: “I saw it about two weeks after George Floyd’s death and it was particularly raw to see at that time.
“Why not call it cocoa, caramel or chocolate – sweet dessert items? But they used tobacco. I was shocked when I saw it.”
She continued: “It’s hurtful to me and my friends. If a young girl who is already uncomfortable with the colour of her skin (sees it) she will be feeling even more alienated.
“Each week that website is showing that racism is another week a young girl may come across it and feel bad for the rest of her life.
“To see that ‘tobacco’ is for their skin tone will make them feel unwanted by society. Tobacco is referred to in society as bad, unhealthy, and highly likely to kill – ‘smoking kills’.
“This is an example of how bias is ingrained into society and only helps fuel racism, be it overt or covert, however in this instance, this is a form of covert racism.”
The pharmaceutical clinical trials manager said that she believed Marks & Spencers should change the name and give an explanation as to why it hadn’t been done earlier.
On a previous occasion, Kusi had been told by the customer service department that the bra’s description had not purposely meant to cause negative connotations.
An email was sent to Kusi, explaining that the retailer was reviewing its naming conventions and that the product range would be investigated with BAME staff.
The response said: “The names we use are taken from those on a colour palette and were never designed to match to a skin tone – I would like to assure you the choice of names is absolutely not intended to carry any negative connotations.
“We review design trends in the market each year to ensure we are offering a fashionable palette to all our customers, and we are actively reviewing our naming convention in the light of the feedback we are receiving.
“We liaise with our store colleagues on a regular basis to determine which colours we need to offer our customer and we are also working with our BAME colleague network to receive their input too.”
The customer service representative said that the company was aware it had to be offering a “better, wider skin colour” range, particularly for black and dark skin tones. It was then explained that the range was being reviewed so that improvements could be made if needed to.
Kusi explained: “I approached Marks & Spencer as I thought it could have been an oversight.
“It shouldn’t be a matter of having to fight to be taken seriously.
“They are willing to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement but they are not willing to put in the work to make changes.
“In the past, I would have been upset about it and buried it away. But this BLM movement has given me courage.”
In response to Mark and Spencer’s U-turn over the colour of the bra, Kusi: “It’s great news. The only thing I’d say is that it’s a shame I had to get in touch with the media in order for that change to be made.
“Me on my own wasn’t enough. As an individual, I went to executive team who had the power to do it – but they didn’t.
“It would be good if in future individuals are taken seriously.”
A Marks & Spencer spokesperson told Mirror Online: “In June we shared our commitments to being a truly inclusive place to shop and work and were honest that we have more to do and more to learn.
“As part of this, we are reviewing our ranges, supported by our BAME network, to ensure we have lingerie items that are flattering and suitable for all customers.
“All of our product colour names have been taken from a design colour palette used across the industry, but we agree with Kusi.
“We are changing the name of the bra colour and are writing to Kusi to confirm that, and let her know that we’re sorry for not moving faster.”
It has since been understood that Marks & Spencer’s is removing the name of the bra shade “tobacco” and renaming it.