Zara pulls denim skirt after 'Pepe the Frog' accusations

A fast-fashion retailer is in hot water over a hate symbol.

Zara, a Spanish clothing chain, pulled a skirt from its website after people pointed out that an applique cartoon character on it bore a striking resemblance to "Pepe the Frog," a fictional frog that has been adopted by "alt-right" groups.

Meagan Fredette, a freelance writer from Chicago, was the first person to point it out. She said she was browsing Zara's site Monday evening when she noticed the skirt. She tweeted about it and then went to sleep, assuming nothing would come of it.

By Wednesday, the skirt was no longer available on Zara's website. The retailer confirmed to several news outlets that the item had been pulled from real and virtual shelves. (Zara did not respond to emailed requests for comment from The Times.)

Pepe rose to prominence last year, his visage appearing in memes about Adolf Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. People who identified as members of white nationalist and other far-right groups added the green frog emoji to their Twitter handle or display name.

Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. posted a photo on Instagram labeled "The Deplorables" — referencing the movie “The Expendables” and a comment that Hillary Clinton made about supporters of his father, Donald Trump — which showed Pepe alongside Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani and other people involved with Trump’s presidential campaign.

In September, the Anti-Defamation League said it was formally declaring Pepe the Frog a hate symbol.

Matt Furie, an artist based in L.A.'s Koreatown neighborhood, created Pepe the Frog back in 2005. He said in an interview last October that having his creation associated with anti-Semitism and white nationalism was his "worst nightmare."

On Wednesday, Furie said via email that Zara had not sought his permission to use Pepe the Frog’s likeness.

The skirt in question was designed by a Spanish artist, Mario de Santiago, as part of Zara's "Oil-On-Denim" collection, which launched this month in stores and online. In a statement, the company said de Santiago created the design based on a painting he made with friends several years ago and that it had “no link to the suggested theme.”

De Santiago replied to Fredette's tweets, saying his design was "never intended to promulgate hate" and that he was sorry. "I feel shame for this," he wrote. (He later deleted those tweets, but Fredette provided the Times with screenshots of them.)

This is not the first time that Zara has had to pull a questionable product. In 2014, the brand publicly apologized for selling a shirt that looked like something concentration camp prisoners wore. In 2007, it stopped selling a purse that had swastika symbols embroidered on it.

Fredette, who has written about fashion for outlets like Paper Magazine and Refinery29, said she wasn’t surprised that this happened to Zara again. In order for fast-fashion retailers like Zara to keep prices low, she said, they have to cut corners on quality control. She said the blame lies with Zara, not the designer, for not recognizing the implications of the frog.

"Someone should have seen this before it was produced and put up for sale," she said.

Follow me on Twitter @jessica_roy.

jessica.roy@latimes.com

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