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Pride designers slam Target's plan for their wares; retailer says it's normal business practice

Zoë Jackson, Nicole Norfleet, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

A number of artists Target tapped to design part of its 2024 Pride collection have taken to social media to lament the retailer's product development process, including last-minute cuts, drastically altered designs, wasted products and little recognition.

This is the latest controversy for the Minneapolis-based company that has struggled to find even footing on LGBTQ issues after conservative backlash about some Pride items last year contributed to the retailer's dipping sales. In response, Target decided this month to sell a smaller selection of Pride merch in fewer stores, though all items are available online. It is a regression to pre-2021, when Target first began offering the collection in honor of June's Pride Month in all stores.

Target maintains the Pride designers went through the same rigorous process all of its collections weather, including working with a third-party vendor instead of Target itself. Merchandising expert Liza Amlani said retailers usually make drastic cuts to collections, but she said there was a reason Target was more critical of its Pride items this summer.

"Think of what happened last year," she said, referencing how some Target employees endured in-store altercations because of 2023′s controversy. "Target is playing it safe. … They are playing it safe because they want to keep their people safe."

But for the 2024 designers who started working with Target six months before the 2023 collection went on sale, seeing the slow unraveling of their work has been hard to stomach. Several took to social media to criticize the design process.

"I didn't receive any direct communication from Target when this was happening," artist En Tze Loh of GRRRL Spells said of last year's backlash affecting the design process for this year. "We were kind of just sitting and waiting in horror, worried about what might happen."

 

Last fall, Tze Loh, who is Canadian, heard Target would reduce their contributions from 15 to seven or eight. In January, it was down to four. That eventually fell to just one online-only item shortly before the collection went up for sale, dashing Tze Loh's hopes of traveling to the U.S. for the first time to see their work in a physical store.

"At Target, we work with thousands of vendors, designers and creators on an annual basis. The process of finalizing our assortment regularly includes design edits and product changes with the goal of creating a relevant assortment that will drive sales," Target said in a statement. "We value our partners' collaboration and creativity in achieving that shared goal."

Products noticeably missing from the Target's Pride collection this year include items for children, like onesies. Gone also are shirts and accessories emblazoned with provocative, often pun-filled, pro-LGBTQ messaging. In 2022′s collection, a year after all stores began selling the Pride merchandise, there were more than 250 pieces. This year, Target's website lists a little more than 60 items marked for June's Pride Month.

Some of what the designers have described is typical during the assortment planning process of major retailers, said Amlani, founder of retail consulting company the Retail Strategy Group.

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