The photo taken looks like an innocent shot of a millennial (with amazing eyebrows if I must add) showing off her box braids which is a go-to style for many during the Spring and Summer months. This week headlines were tagged along with the photo and the public has their grip quite tightly on the image of twenty-something Cree Ballah. Ballah arrived on March 23rd for her shift at Zara in Toronto with her braids pulled back and was approached by management and instructed on taking down her box braids.
Cree said she felt humiliated during the conversation. Ballah stated in a CBC interview the following: “My hair type is out of my control and I try to control it to the best of my ability, which wasn’t up to standard for Zara”.
Culture appropriation tends to be a topic we stray away from speaking on,especially when mixed with where the subject is applied in the corporate world. Hair can be an expression of culture and depending on where you make your coins, it can be controlled by corporate “guidelines”. Other than dress code, there are brands that give specified hairstyles a thumbs up versus others than may be viewed as eccentric or a distraction.
This is not the first time Zara has come under fire for discrimination, having offensive products, or alleged bias. Cree Ballah, who identifies as biracial, explained to Toronto City’s News that the two managers were not trying to “offend”,they were just going for a “more professional clean look”. A Zara spokesman told The Huffington Post in a statement that the fashion retailer “has no formal policy regarding employees’ hairstyles”; we expect all employees to ensure that they present a professional appearance that enables them to serve our valued customers.
The Zara spokesman went on to say that “We have engaged directly with the employee on this matter and respect the privacy of those discussions. Zara would never, under any circumstances, ask an employee to remove his or her braids. We are proud of our diverse workforce, and we do not tolerate any form of discrimination.” The brand, amongst others, tend to dust the issue under the rug. There have been several other stories in and out of the fashion industry where the corporate standards go against the natural being of “blackness”.
Cree Ballah quit weeks after the incident and has since logged a discrimination complaint with Zara’s Human Resources Department. There has not been any update on the matter, but her story should remain in the back of our brains.
In an industry where looks matter, have we come far enough to stand up against the things we should be proud of?
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