In a bid to capitalize on the worldwide popularity of all things Jamaican, fashion leader Louis Vuitton designed the “Jamaican Stripe” pullover, which the company has advertised as being “inspired by the Caribbean island’s national flag.” However, the red, green, and yellow pullover, which sells for $1,340, is not using the colors of Jamaica’s flag, which are black, green, and yellow. The colors used in the pullover do match those of the Rastafarian flag, but that reference was not mentioned on the Louis Vuitton website. Jamaicans were quick to note the error and emphasized the importance of implementing diversity references correctly and called out the high-end fashion firm for its ignorance and failure to research the matter before making its design decision.
The Louis Vuitton website describes the pullover as being inspired “by the Caribbean island’s cultural heritage,” which would include its Rastafarian history. In fact, Jamaica can claim both flags: the black-green-yellow flag of the nation of Jamaica and the red-green-yellow flag of Ethiopia, which is central to Rastafari beliefs.
Rastafarianism is a social and religious movement that began in Jamaica in the 1930s. Rastafarianism are monotheistic, with many believing that Haile Selassie, who was the Ethiopian emperor from 1930 to 1974 was the Second Coming of Jesus and God, whom they call Jah, incarnate. Other Rastas believe Selassie was a human prophet who recognized the inner divinity of every person.
The Rasta movement is Afrocentric with a focus on the African Diaspora. Its followers emphasize natural living, veganism, the dreadlock hairstyle, and the use of cannabis as a sacrament. The social movement began among the poor and disenfranchised Afro-Jamaican communities on the island, in part a reaction to the dominant British colonial rule still in effect. It was also influenced by the Back-to-African movement of Black nationalists like Marcus Garvey. In the 1960 and 1970s, Rastafarianism became better known around the world through its adoption by Rasta-inspired musical artists like Bob Marley. Estimates place the number of Rastas worldwide as between 700,000 and 1 million, with the largest number of believers living in Jamaica.
Twitter users expressed their strong criticism of the fashion line’s inaccurate reference to Jamaica’s flag. Some said that Vuitton “has no business using Jamaica in this way” and “Do sweaters remind you of Jamaica? Do you enjoy cultural appropriation?” Other postings on Twitter included “Oh please. Educate yourself before you intrude on other people property.” and noted that many people outside of Jamaica think the Rasta flag is Jamaica’s flag. And several noted “They’re so misinformed. Why not do some research first. Marketing involves research.”