An Instagram account for a South Korea–based clothing company called Bad Blood has been accused of using blackface after a customer noticed a photo of a model with a much darker skin tone than she'd previously had.
Since coming under fire online, the company has apologized and said it takes the criticism very seriously. It also claimed any "racial commentary" was unintentional and blamed the image on an Instagram filter.
Amaal Abdulkadir, a 25-year-old primary school teacher based in London, first spotted the images. On Thursday night, she was scrolling through Instagram and had to do a double take when she noticed the model. "I scrolled past it and I went back and I was like, hold on, did they hire a Black model?" said Abdulkadir, who told BuzzFeed News she became a Bad Blood customer when she lived in South Korea for nearly three years.
Since she was surprised, Abdulkadir said, she zoomed into the picture. Then she realized she had seen this specific model before because of the woman's tattoos. After she compared the post to another photo, she was sure it was the same model — who previously had a completely different skin color.
"I went down to find a picture of her with her tattoos, and I was like, they’ve got to be joking; there’s no way that they made this woman look — they tried to make this woman look like a Black woman," she said. "I was so angry."
The teacher thinks it's possible that the company deliberately cropped out the model's face in the photos where her skin tone was considerably darkened to hide that she wasn't actually Black.
Abdulkadir then got in touch with the company through Instagram DMs to ask about it. She sent the photos to the company to illustrate the difference, and someone replied, "Actually, she is blacker than black." The company also told Abdulkadir, a Black woman, that the model in question is "much darker" than her.
The company continued to defend the images, telling Abdulkadir that the model tans. "I know she is tan in their other pictures. She has a natural-looking tan. I have no issues with that," she told BuzzFeed News. "They tried to make it out that that was my problem."
Abdulkadir said that the clothing company then started telling her that she has no manners and that she should get some respect. During their exchange, the company stopped replying in English and switched to informal Korean, writing, “This is not an issue you should be sticking your nose into; it’s just the way the photo was taken."
Honorifics are important in Korean, Abdulkadir told BuzzFeed News, and she was shocked as a customer to be spoken to in this way.
"How dare they say that this is an issue I shouldn’t be speaking on when I, as a Black woman, have approached them in a kind manner," she said, "when in reality my anger would have been justified in that situation that they were trying to use dark skin, Black skin, my skin, to profit off of, to make money off of, but they’re not giving money to actual Black people. That pissed me off."
Bad Blood told Abdulkadir that it showed the post to Black friends and that they were fine with it. She thinks that there hadn't been many comments from non-Koreans about the situation when she brought it up, so the company had assumed that only she had a problem with it.
However, once she posted about it on her Instagram story, it started to go viral. Others who messaged Bad Blood or commented were either met with a copy-and-pasted apology or blocked.
BuzzFeed News also received the message that said the company had "no intention of degrading black people at all."
In her messages with the company, Abdulkadir also tried to explain blackface to them. She said blackface has been a long-standing issue in South Korea; last year, Sam Okyere, a Ghanaian TV personality who lived in the country, ended up leaving the industry after speaking out.
"He was basically the poster child for foreigners in Korea," Abdulkadir said. "They loved him, and then they dropped him the moment he spoke up about blackface and how wrong it was."
After seeing the Bad Blood photos, people said they were uncomfortable, and some are deciding to boycott the store.
As more people, including South Koreans, called the company out, Bad Blood posted a longer apology.
In the post, the company claimed to have used an Instagram filter that increased the contrast. The company has yet to apologize to Abdulkadir personally. However, an influencer who has acted as a spokesmodel for the brand appeared to have DM'd her — then quickly unsent it, she said. In the unsent DM, which Abdulkadir captured with a screenshot, the woman appeared to sincerely apologize for the company's actions.
"I'm sorry for making you feel sick," the message said. "But we don't do racism. I'll clear up the misunderstanding."