Online fast fashion retailer Shein apologized and removed a phone case from its website Saturday that depicted a design of a handcuffed Black person being outlined in chalk. The action comes after the company faced backlash online and revealed that it hadn't received permission from the artist who created the image back in 2014.
The phone case had been advertised as a new product and was being sold for $1.50 before screenshots of the phone case were posted online and sparked criticism from customers. Shein's website no longer has the item listed.
Jayunna Williams, a 21-year-old from Oklahoma who posted the screenshots of the product, said it was "disturbing" to find the case being sold online. Williams had been searching for a phone case on the Shein website after the retailer was recommended to her by friends.
"I don't know if it's supposed to be a dead man, but who even gave the company permission to put this on their site?" Williams said to BuzzFeed News. "Why would someone at the company even approve that? It rubbed us the wrong way, especially people in the Black community. We're really shocked because we put our money into companies like this, and it's a big a slap in the face."
Shein did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment. But in an initial response to customers on Twitter about the phone case, Shein said that the artwork was "created in reaction to the 2014 murder of Michael Brown" to "show support for [the Black Lives Matter movement]."
Customers quickly called the company out for the explanation. "A white hand.. doing a chalk outline of a black person laying there (presumably de*d) in handcuffs and this was supposed to show support?? How? QUICKLY," one user asked the company on Twitter.
The company apologized in a response to Williams' tweet, saying that she "brought to our attention that the art is being interpreted as racist" and that it was "contrary" to its actual meaning.
In another tweet to Williams, Shein revealed that it hadn't actually received permission from the artist, Jean Jullien, who posted the image on Instagram in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old, in 2014.
In the comments on his Instagram post of the image that alerted him to Shein's phone case, Jullien said that he has asked the company to donate any profits made from the product to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jullien, who is French, also explained to his followers that the art was published in 2014 to raise awareness about the death of Brown and what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri.
Jullien's studio did not respond to a request for comment.
The criticism of Shein's phone case comes more than 10 months after the company announced, in July 2020, that it had formed a product review committee "with staff from different cultures and religions," following backlash over inappropriate and insensitive products.
"We vow to do a much better job in educating ourselves," it said.