Target's Gee's Bend Quilt Collection Sparks Controversy

Target faces criticism for its handling of a limited-edition quilt collection inspired by Gee's Bend quilters, with artists receiving limited financial benefits. The controversy raises questions about cultural appropriation and fair compensation for Black artists and communities.

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Nitish Verma
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Target's Gee's Bend Quilt Collection Sparks Controversy

Target's Gee's Bend Quilt Collection Sparks Controversy

Target has come under fire for its handling of a limited-edition quilt collection inspired by the designs of Gee's Bend quilters, a group of Black artists descended from enslaved people in Alabama. The collection, launched for Black History Month 2024, features geometric patterns and kaleidoscopic designs on various products. While the collection has been highly successful, with many items selling out, the quilters have received limited financial benefits, raising questions about cultural appropriation and fair compensation.

Why this matters: The controversy highlights the ongoing struggle for fair compensation and cultural respect, particularly for Black artists and communities whose creative traditions have long been appropriated and undervalued. This incident serves as a reminder of the need for corporations to prioritize ethical partnerships and fair compensation, especially when profiting from thecultural heritage of marginalized communities.

The quilters were paid a flat rate for the products sold in Target's stores, with no additional money distributed following the collection's massive success. Target confirmed that many items sold out nationwide but refused to disclose the exact amount made from the designs. The compensation agreement differs significantly from the Freedom Quilting Bee, a 1960s artist-run collective that paid all quilters equally and provided social security benefits.

Critics argue that Target's contract with the quilters is problematic. "Every stage of the finances has been problematic," said Patricia Turner, a retired African American Studies professor at UCLA. Some accuse the retailer of "manipulating" the quilters' creative output.

In a statement, Target said, "We worked with five quilters from The Quilters of Gee's Bend on a variety of limited-time-only items... As is standard with limited-time collections at Target, each quilter was paid a discussed and agreed upon fee for their services."

The Gee's Bend quilters have a history of being taken advantage of. In the 1990s, a white art collector commodified their work, leading to lawsuits from the quilters. Target has also been accused of detracting from the quilters' ethos by mass-producing the quilts in Chinese factories instead of repurposing fabric, as is traditional.

Despite the backlash, some quilters believe the wider accessibility to their pieces can aid the next generation in building livelihoods out of the craft. "We're actually in a quilt revival right now, like in real time," said artist and scholar Sharbreon Plummer. The controversy highlights the ongoing struggle for fair compensation and cultural respect, particularly for Black artists and communities whose creative traditions have long been appropriated and undervalued.

Key Takeaways

  • Target's Gee's Bend quilt collection sparked controversy over fair compensation and cultural appropriation.
  • Quilters received a flat rate, no additional pay for massive sales, and no profit disclosure.
  • Critics argue Target's contract is problematic, manipulating quilters' creative output.
  • Gee's Bend quilters have a history of being taken advantage of, including a 1990s commodification lawsuit.
  • Some quilters see the collection as a way to increase accessibility and aid the next generation.