Bath & Body Works unveiled a new collection for Black History Month—and social media users had some serious opinions.
Wrapped in limited-edition packaging inspired by kente cloth, the line of soaps, perfumes, lotions, and candles sparked debate online about whether the company was indulging in cultural appropriation or truly highlighting the achievements of Black Americans.
“Celebrate Black History Month in every way,” a newsletter announcing the collection read. The company noted that the artwork was inspired by “traditional African art with modern-day motifs designed to inspire and uplift.”
On the retailer’s website, customers can purchase Bath & Body Works staples, like Champagne Toast Fine Fragrance Mist and a Coconut Sandalwood 3-Wick Candle—but now decked out in packaging reminiscent of Kwanzaa ceremony candles with Pan-African colors. Captions like “unity,” “empowered,” and “confident” are emblazoned across some of the products.
Black managers at Bath & Body Works shared their views about the collection.
“The packaging resonates with me on multiple levels,” a district manager is quoted on the company’s website. “The graphics are hip, trendy, and fashion-forward, while embodying some of our rich history.”
“It means so much to be a Black male working for a brand that’s making a conscious effort to support the Black community!” a store manager said.
But the racial-equity push rang hollow to some consumers.
“Well this is VERY tacky,” a Twitter user wrote under Bath & Body Works’ social media announcement. “Y’all couldn't even give new scents? Just redressed the same old stuff we been buying all year? Not cool. Not cute. Not ok.”
“It’s the fact they are using these symbolic colors and patterns to draw us in. Like culture appropriation at it’s [sic] finest. What’s next—the staff wearing dashiki smocks next year?” a Twitter user asked.
“I’m really tryna figure out who at Bath & Body Works decided, ‘Yeah let’s cover everything with kente print, that’ll do it!’” said a Twitter user.
“The way these companies commodify Blackness during Black History Month is nasty work. Not the Bath & Body Works in kente. Please help,” another posted.
Customers also slammed the retailer for including a watermelon-scented candle in the new display, pointing out that the fruit is a Jim-Crow-era stereotype of Black people.
“The watermelon candle is toxic,” someone wrote.
Bath & Body Works has recently increased its social justice efforts.
In January, the retailer sent a message to customers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying, “While we emphasize our commitment to social justice today, we recognize that standing up for civil rights is a daily responsibility. We strive every day to carry out Dr. King’s dream. We proudly participate in the ongoing efforts to support Black communities by creating spaces where everyone belongs.”
The company also put out a statement showing its support for Juneteenth as a national holiday after protests against police brutality toward Black Americans rattled the U.S.
“Juneteenth is a moment to remember the journey of Black Americans, and it’s one that we must recognize as we continue to work on our commitments to our associates and customers and these communities,” the company said.
With its Black History Month collection, the retailer pledged $500,000 to the Columbus chapter and the National Urban League to support civil rights and racial justice.
“The collection to me is powerful, inspiring, uplifting—and rooted in our values,” another district manager said in the newsletter. “I couldn’t be prouder to work for Bath & Body Works.”
The company did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.