Ven­dors cash in on the death of Floyd

Trib­ute or profit, mer­chan­dise abounds

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY + LIFE - Josh Peter

By now you’ve prob­a­bly seen the Tshirts and face masks bear­ing Ge­orge Floyd’s name and im­age. But have you seen the “Jus­tice For Ge­orge Floyd’’ run­ning shoes?

Or how about the “Call for Jus­tice for Ge­orge Floyd’’ throw pil­low?

Or the “Ge­orge Floyd R.I.P.” un­der­wear?

Yes, un­der­wear, $18 for three pair. The death of Floyd, an African Amer­i­can man who was suf­fo­cated un­der the knee of a white police of­fi­cer in Min­neapo­lis on May 25, has done more than set off protests and soulsearch­ing across the United States. It also has trig­gered the sell­ing of an ar­ray of mer­chan­dise, much of it listed on Ama­zon.

“Clearly op­por­tunists,’’ said James Thom­son, an ad­viser for brands sell­ing on­line. “All these peo­ple sell­ing Tshirts, they’re ba­si­cally along for the ride, mak­ing money on it.

“Whether they care about the so­cial as­pects, it’s just the surf­board to jump onto and ride as long as the wave is there.’’

Sell­ing mer­chan­dise tied to tragedy or a ma­jor news event is not a new phe­nom­e­non.

Soon after Kobe Bryant and his daugh­ter Gianna were killed in a he­li­copter crash Jan. 26, T-shirts bear­ing their images were for sale on­line and on the street.

The same thing hap­pened not long after Eric Garner re­peated the words “I can’t breathe’’ in 2014 when a white police of­fi­cer put him into a choke­hold in New York that ended his life.

And T-shirts re­mem­ber­ing the Vir­gin Mary’s be­lieved ap­pear­ance to six chil­dren in south­ern Bos­nia in 1981 are still be­ing sold there to­day, as are T-shirts com­mem­o­rat­ing the 100-year an­niver­sary of the vi­sions of the Vir­gin Mary re­ported by three shep­herd chil­dren in Por­tu­gal. In fact, they’re avail­able for pur­chase on Ama­zon on socks, cof­fee mugs and hood­ies.

Floyd’s fu­neral this month was a pow­er­ful scene – and it was easy to spot face masks bear­ing his name as about 500 peo­ple streamed into the Foun­tain of Praise Church in Houston. The 10-per­son Houston En­sem­ble sang from the choir loft and Rev. Al Sharp­ton eu­lo­gized the man whose im­age and name were om­nipresent.

No more than 50 yards from the church, Christo­pher Moody of Columbia, S.C., said, he was sell­ing Ge­orge Floyd T-shirts for $20 and Ge­orge Floyd masks for $10.

“When a good move­ment comes, some­thing pub­lic is go­ing on. That’s when it gets done,’’ Moody, 37, said of his mer­chan­dise. “It helps some­body make a silent statement for what they stand for.’’

Dezzie Storne of Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia, said he was sell­ing Ge­orge Floyd T-shirts for $15 un­der an old popup tent along the pro­ces­sion route and as a horse­drawn car­riage passed by on its way to Houston Me­mo­rial Gar­dens for Floyd’s burial.

Storne, who is African Amer­i­can and de­scribed him­self as a com­mit­ted ac­tivist, said he saw about 10 other street ven­dors and they came from as far as Cal­i­for­nia, Ten­nessee and Michi­gan.

“Yes, I’m sell­ing a prod­uct, and peo­ple are wear­ing this prod­uct to ex­press their de­sire about this par­tic­u­lar is­sue, right?” he said. “The prod­uct is used to pro­mote the is­sue.”

Jen­nifer Roth­man, a law pro­fes­sor at LMU Loy­ola Law School in Los An­ge­les and an ex­pert on state laws pro­tect­ing in­di­vid­u­als’ iden­ti­ties, said it’s un­clear if sell­ing mer­chan­dise bear­ing Floyd’s name or im­age could re­sult in le­gal li­a­bil­ity. But Roth­man pointed out that the hold­ers of Elvis Pres­ley’s rights suc­cess­fully sued to block the sale, at least tem­po­rar­ily, of “in me­mo­riam” posters after the rock leg­end’s death.

“I think the First Amend­ment should be pro­tect­ing those sorts of col­lec­tive mo­ments of griev­ing or a po­lit­i­cal move­ment,” said Roth­man, au­thor of “The Right of Pub­lic­ity: Pri­vacy Reimag­ined for a Pub­lic World. “But the law is in­cred­i­bly un­clear about how to treat uses in mer­chan­dise.”

For ex­am­ple, Roth­man said, Martin Luther King Jr.’s es­tate was able to stop the sale of plas­tic stat­ues with his face on them, but Rosa Parks’s foun­da­tion failed to stop a mass-pro­duced plaque with her name and im­age on it from be­ing sold.

At­tor­ney Ben Crump, who is rep­re­sent­ing Ge­orge Floyd’s fam­ily, did not re­spond to USA TO­DAY’s re­quest for com­ment.

Many of the trans­ac­tions are tak­ing place on­line, where com­pa­nies of­fer prod­ucts thanks to mass cus­tomiza­tion and pro­duce- or print-on-de­mand tech­niques, said e-com­merce an­a­lysts such as Thom­son, au­thor of “The Ama­zon Mar­ket­place Dilemma.”

In many cases, Chi­nese com­pa­nies ware­house the plain sneak­ers, plain socks and other plain prod­ucts be­fore they are cus­tom­ized with a logo such as Ge­orge Floyd’s face and the slo­gan “Jus­tice for Ge­orge Floyd.”

“A made-to-or­der seller doesn’t re­ally care whether some­body picks a pair of un­der­wear or a lunch box or a T-shirt,” Thom­son said. “You don’t care, be­cause in the end, it’s all the same. I take a $2 T-shirt, put a logo on top of it and sell it for 20 bucks. Let’s rinse and re­peat and make a lot of money.”

At­tempts to reach com­pa­nies sell­ing Ge­orge Floy­dthemed mer­chan­dise through Ama­zon’s web­site were un­suc­cess­ful, and few of the com­pa­nies had web­sites.

“The win­ner here is Ama­zon,’’ Thom­son said “They make a 15% sales com­mis­sion on #todeev­ery one of these items.’’

Ef­forts to reach an Ama­zon rep­re­sen­ta­tive were un­suc­cess­ful.

El­lie Bryan, a Min­neapo­lis artist, said her ren­der­ing of Floyd was used to raise more than $2,000 for the Ge­orge Floyd Me­mo­rial Fund and the Gianna Floyd Fund – but has fallen vic­tim to ripoffs. She pro­vided screen­shots of her art­work that are be­ing used with­out her ap­proval by on­line mer­chants sell­ing T-shirts.

“I am not in­ter­ested in cash­ing in on his death,’’ Bryan said by email, “and, in fact, I have al­ready had to take le­gal ac­tion against peo­ple who have stolen my art­work for the in­ten­tion of do­ing that.’’

While T-shirts sales con­tin­ued to sell on­line, street ven­dors such as Sharon John were sell­ing Ge­orge Floyd T-shirts in Har­lem.

“The im­por­tant mes­sage I feel is to reach our peo­ple, to reach our al­lies, to let them know that Black lives do mat­ter,’’ John said. “They can honor Ge­orge and all the other peo­ple that have been killed by police bru­tal­ity.’’

Also sell­ing Ge­orge Floyd T-shirts in Har­lem, Ni­cole Deneus said she was mo­ti­vated by “sup­ply and de­mand.’’

“I just de­cided to come out here and fig­ure it out,” she said.

Across the coun­try, Dar­ick Bre­land sports a “Jus­tice for Ge­orge Floyd’’ Tshirt he de­signed for him­self. He is sell­ing cus­tom-made Ge­orge Floyd T-shirts for $19.99 at Cali Shore, his store on the Venice Beach board­walk in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“It’s not re­ally about the money,” Bre­land said. “It’s about me be­ing an African Amer­i­can male and un­der­stand­ing the mes­sages needed to be heard.

“I also make a shirt that says, ‘I Love my Glock.’ It’s crazy times.”

CO­RAL MUR­PHY-MAR­COS

Black Lives Mat­ter gear for sale in Har­lem.

GODOFREDO A. VÁSQUEZ/POOL

A man wear­ing a T-shirt with an im­age of Ge­orge Floyd as a Yates High School bas­ket­ball player views Floyd’s cas­ket dur­ing a visi­ta­tion June 8 at The Foun­tain of Praise church in Houston.

CO­RAL MUR­PHY-MAR­COS

Ni­cole Deneus said she was mo­ti­vated by “sup­ply and de­mand.”

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