You guys, I don’t really even know how to start this post. Think about how many times I’ve reached out to companies in the history of this blog, how many times I’ve thrown my opinion to the ether and received nothing, or worse, received dismissive, hurtful replies in return. That’s fully what I was expecting when I posted about the Paul Frank “Dream Catchin’ Powwow” on Sunday, especially after the company posted the quick, standard apology on their Facebook page.
So I was surprised, and admittedly skeptical, when I got this email on Wednesday from Elie Dekel, the President of Paul Frank Industries:
Dear Adrienne K,
My name is Elie Dekel and I am President of Paul Frank Industries LLC. I am writing to see if you would be willing to speak with me regarding the recent Paul Frank event. While we have not yet received your letter [AK note: I only had emailed it to the PR company], we have seen the copy online and would like to address your concerns directly. This is something we take very seriously, and since the event, we have begun to take numerous steps to address this regrettable and unfortunate situation. I’d like to talk with you so I can update you on what we’re doing as well as hear more from you, so we learn from this mistake. If you would be interested in speaking with me, please let me know how best to reach you and when you might be available.
There were some hints in the email that this wasn’t going to be my typical dismissive conversation (they want to learn from their mistake?! They’ve taken steps to address the situation?!), so I was already feeling better about the whole thing going into the call. Mr. Dekel also reached out to Jessica Metcalfe (of Beyond Buckskin), so we decided to have a conference call with the three of us. Unfortunately, Ms. Beyond Buckskin is in Canada for a visit, and her phone was being mean and wouldn’t let her call in. So I talked to Mr. Dekel on my own (but then immediately filled in Jessica afterward, don’t worry). She’s going to be following up with him next week when she’s back home.
The phone call went so much better than I could have even imagined. Elie was gracious, sincere, and kind from the beginning, and truly apologetic. He took full responsibility for the event, and said he wanted to make sure that this was something that never happened again, and wanted to learn more so he could educate his staff and colleagues. We talked about the history of representations of Native people in the US, and I even got into the issues of power and privilege at play–and the whole time, he actually listened, and understood. Such a refreshing experience.
I could go on and on about the call, but enough background, here are the incredible, amazing, mind-boggling action steps that the company has taken and has promised to take in the near future:
- They have already removed all of the Native inspired designs from their digital/online imprint
- The company works off a “Style Guide” that includes all of the digital art for the company, and then separate manufacturing companies license those images and turn them into products. Elie and his staff have gone through the style guide, even into the archives, and removed all of the Native imagery, meaning no future products will be produced with these images.
- They have sent (or it will be sent today) a letter to all of their manufacturers and partners saying none of this artwork is authorized for use and it has been removed from their business
- Elie has invited Jessica and I to collaborate with him on a panel about the use of Native imagery in the industry to be held at the International Licensing Merchandisers Association (LIMA) conference in June. This would reach a large and incredibly influential audience all in one place.
and the MOST exciting part:
- Paul Frank Industries would like to collaborate with a Native artist to make designs, where the proceeds would be donated to a Native cause!
Elie said he wants to learn how this can be done in an appropriate and respectful manner, and that they’re not “looking to profit” from this. On top of it, we’ve set actionable next steps to make all of this happen, and he’s even assigned staff members to stay on it so it doesn’t slip through the cracks.
I’m seriously still in disbelief–this is beyond a best case scenario. This is taking a relatively isolated event, and bringing it to a history-making level. These interactions with Mr. Dekel and Paul Frank can set the stage and create a model for any company in the future to follow, and by taking steps like the artist collaboration and the conference presentation, we’re reaching far beyond the walls of Paul Frank.
I often hear push back about the impossibility of pulling images or dealing with manufacturers on a large scale, but this just goes to show that when there is actual interest and dedication by company leadership, amazing things can happen.
I want to thank all of you who’ve been involved with this since the beginning–this was truly the result of some incredible community mobilization. The outpouring of tweets and facebook comments throughout this all has been what has kept the company accountable and started the ball rolling to make some real and meaningful change. This was all you!
I also want to thank Elie and the staff at Paul Frank for being proactive with the steps they’ve taken, and for being so sincere on the phone call. I have no doubts that this is going to happen, and it’s going to be done right. I’m also very excited that Jessica and I can bring our two areas of expertise together!
Welcome to 2012 friends, when an incredibly spread-out, incredibly diverse community of Native people and allies can unite for a cause, and use the internet to hold multi-million dollar companies accountable. I’m so proud to be Native right now. Today is an awesome day.