The Kardashian brand is inarguably bolstered by drama. They profit from it. And while there's something to be admired about the ability to monetize controversy, we have to hold them accountable when that controversy is blatantly harmful or problematic. Which brings us to their ongoing habit of profiting off of cultural appropriation.
The Kardashian family has a long history of appropriation, and they continue to build their empire with little regard for the communities from which they borrow (or in some cases, steal). Admittedly, even the most well-intentioned allies have missteps, and the Kardashian clan has been adjacent to the black community for decades—which has surely, at least somewhat, blurred their view of what is and isn't okay. And while they've used their platform to *occasionally* bring awareness to causes like Black Lives Matter, they've also exploited people of color through the following business ventures:
At first glance, Khloé Kardashian's denim brand is a cool-girl fashion line with unique designs for all body types. But look a little closer, and you'll find yourself questioning whether Khloé stole the designs right out of the hands of entrepreneur Destiney Bleu.
Apparently, imitation is the best form of flattery—but when a woman of color grinds to land her designs on the likes of Beyoncé, Meghan Trainor, and the ladies of Fifth Harmony, she deserves some credit. Bleu's work appears to have been repackaged and sold as revolutionary new duds "designed" by a Kardashian, and it's not okay. Guess the name Good American is apt, considering that appropriating cultures (and subsequently profiting off them) is about as American as it gets.
Kylie Jenner's Swimwear
Khloé isn't the only one of Kris Jenner's children that's been accused of ripping off a black designer. In yet another enterprise that profits off black creativity, Kylie Jenner "designed" camouflage bikini sets that are eerily similar to those of Tizita Balemlay's brand Plugged NYC.
Even more sinister is the fact that Kylie requested many of Balemlay's items before mysteriously producing a copycat line of her own. The pieces are so similar that upon first glance, the two brands juxtaposed next to one another look like one cohesive line.
Sure, camo is a trend that cyclically pops up in fashion, but there's still incredible evidence that Kylie and her team used Balemlay's designs to appropriate an "urban" look with absolutely no attribution.
Kendall Jenner's Pepsi Commercial
As anyone with even the faintest interest in pop culture is well aware, Kendall Jenner scored a deal with Pepsi which resulted in an offensive ad trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement. By signing on for a political ad, Kendall had a huge opportunity to take a firm stance as a white ally (while still collecting a fat paycheck in the process). Yet what could have been a soul-stirring take on a controversial socio-political movement became just another frothy result of cultural appropriation.
As a New York Times commenter astutely noted, "Ads like this are the reason why diversity is so important. Stuff like this happens when there are no black people in the room during the creative process." Instead of consulting people of color to help produce the commercial—or better yet, hiring an entertainer of color to star in it—Pepsi and Kendall Jenner succeeded at producing a painfully out-of-touch ad that capitalized on and watered down an important movement.
Kylie Hair Couture
Kylie Jenner has already been scrutinized for her Lip Kits having a strikingly similar formula to those of ColourPop—and unfortunately that's not the only thing to criticize. Kylie's physical transformation appropriates features of black women (in case you have doubts, please see her see her use of corn rows, dreads, and Yaki hair), but it's not just about personal appropriation—it's about profiting from it. Almost three years ago, Kylie posted a Woman Crush Wednesday that shouted out Heather Sanders—an entrepreneur of color—and her lovely blue hair.
Just two months later, she was seen rocking her own blue extensions. Before long, Kylie Hair Couture was made in partnership with Bellami, and once again there was little to no acknowledgment of the inspiration behind Kylie's new look or enterprise.
The youngest Jenner is often lauded as having the most innate business acumen of the family—but is it really acumen if your model is simply being really good at creeping Instagram for independent business owners of color and appropriating their ideas?
Kim's Personal Branding
While Kim's many public appearances and magazine covers might not count as enterprises—they're all part of her larger brand. Each magazine cover is a cog in the celebrity wheel, which brings us to Paper Magazine. Her cover was shocking, but mostly due to the racist undertones and implicit mockery of black women. Women like Sarah "Saartjie" Baartman, who was paraded around Europe during the 19th century and used as a freak show exhibit due to her large, shelf-like bottom. Sarah was simultaneously mocked, sexualized, and profited off of, and to this day, black women still receive criticism for their large backsides—the same shape that white women are now making "trendy."
Kim's participation in racial fetishization, whether unknowingly or not, alongside notorious photographer Jean-Paul Goude, further confirms that the Kardashians may not fully consider the impact of their actions before capitalizing on new opportunities. She's received idolization for her figure in a way that women of color have never been given in earnest.