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Fashion Dolls Kill: art theft, trans exclusion, and dirty money

Jun. 22, 2020
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It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of information we’ve been seeing, but one of the images that stands out from the demonstrations-turned-riots in Hollywood and Beverly Hills is of armed police in front of Dolls Kill on North Fairfax. It was a stinging reminder that the police continue to protect the interests of the wealthy over the safety of the people. Plus, the image was shared by Shoddy Lynn, the company’s founder. 

Shoddy Lynn has since apologized, but that doesn’t make up for a despairingly long laundry list of other racially-motivated and anti-LGBTQ+ actions taken by Dolls Kill. Reports of stolen art, designers literally stealing people’s tattoo designs from their bodies to put on merchandise, and unjust firings are all detailed on an Instagram account aptly named DollsKillSucks. It has over 2,000 followers and displays posts dating back six months. A 2014 article from Huffington Post called out Dolls Kill for cultural appropriation and racist halloween costumes. Countless reports say the company has purposely hired LGBTQ+ folk and POC to promote a diverse image. I spoke with three of many artists who were personally affected by Dolls Kill’s prejudiced policies.

Syire identifies as Two Spirit and is of Indigenous heritage. They were employed by Dolls Kill last fall, and they say that they and other coworkers told customers it was inappropriate for white customers to purchase certain stereotype costumes to no avail. “Me being so young, I saw working for Dolls Kill as a big opportunity to get into modeling, my ultimate goal. A content director for Dolls Kill told me I had the perfect look. They said, ‘Oh, you’re so versatile!’” No action was ever taken to get Syire into modeling. “They steal from smaller brands. They trick people into thinking they stand for the radical...” Syire says. “I have a story and a face and I’m not afraid to put myself out there. My platform is to stand up for those who have been mistreated.”

The next story comes from a friend of mine—a Dominican artist named Uzumaki Cepeda. Her work consists of warm, fuzzy textile art that draws a beautiful contrast between the real world and imagination. Uzumaki has been an active artist with installations all over the country for years, and was initially contacted by Dolls Kill to do a collaboration; she never responded. They then copied her unique style and used it for a shop-window display without her permission. When confronted about the art theft, the corporation claimed that they’d never heard of Uzumaki or her work and took zero accountability. She was never paid a cent. After exposing the company on Instagram and Twitter, they apologized privately but never acknowledged the theft and never made reparations to Uzumaki for her art. 

As if two horror stories of injustice weren’t enough, the last dramatic example of Dolls Kill being the absolute worst comes from a sustainable fashion designer and woman of color named Melianj. At 19, she dropped out of a fashion program to pursue her own business. Melianj was without a place to live and really struggled when she had her designs stolen by Dolls Kill; she was unable to afford legal representation at the time and felt unsafe taking action. “At the time, so many people around me kept supporting them. I felt unheard...underappreciated,” Melanj said, addressing the issue in a mission statement regarding the Black Lives Matter movement on Instagram. As if stealing from a woman of color experiencing homelessness wasn’t enough, Dolls Kill sold untold amounts of merchandise bearing Melianj’s designs, a figure that is incalculable without subpoenaing their sales records in a lawsuit.

Dolls Kill is practicing economic oppression. Despite presenting as a small business, the company has deep pockets. After making over $7.6 million in sales in 2014, Dolls Kill’s success merited an additional $5 million in funding from venture capital company Maveron.

Dolls Kill steals art and lines the pockets of those that are already wealthy; they refuse to acknowledge that they discriminate, tokenize people of color, underpay models, break contracts, and endorse cultural appropriation. It’s hard to believe that a multi-million dollar company can’t find it within their budget to produce or compensate artists ethically. I reached out to Dolls Kill directly and they saw my request but declined comment. Boycotting isn’t enough; we have to do more research and look into where the money comes from, the people in positions of authority who allow the oppression to continue and where our money goes when we purchase from these companies.