Content warning for discussions of mass shootings.

Fashion is design with an artistic component, and that art can be used to break boundaries, advocate for the marginalized, and call attention to critical issues. But fashion can also be used for deeply cynical purposes, as is the case with streetwear label Bstroy's Spring/Summer 2020 collection. The greater public is outraged at Bstroy's new hooded sweatshirts emblazoned with the names of schools that have become achingly familiar: Columbine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook Elementary. The sweatshirts are even distressed, appearing as though they are riddled with bullet holes.

Sometimes there are no words. In this case, we're going to let the images speak for themselves.

The Sandy Hook sweatshirt opened the show.

Sandy Hook Elementary's school colors are green and white. This sweatshirt, which was the first look of the collection, uses the same colors, and can only be interpreted as referencing the school in a callously cynical manner.

Take a look at the faces of the crowd. Most of the attendees appear visibly disgusted, and the model even looks uncomfortable as he tilts his body away from the camera. 

If you attended the show, we'd love to hear from you about the atmosphere as these garments were presented down the aisle.

Here's the Marjory Stoneman Douglas sweatshirt.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting took place in February 2018, and was arguably the biggest galvanizing force for gun control activism in U.S. history. Its survivors became immediate high-profile activists, with family and students alike speaking out about this issue.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this controversy has been the responses from survivors and families. On this photo, a student survivor commented, "My dead classmates dying should not be a … fashion statement." In a follow-up comment, the survivor wrote, "A grown man wearing a Sandy Hook Elementary hoodie with bullet holes isn’t doing anything to raise gun violence awareness, those parents of lost elementary CHILDREN are reminded of their loss everyday and have fought tooth and nail to bring awareness and change, they have been chastised by an entire political demographic, have been called frauds, and suffer everyday."

Columbine High School's colors are blue and silver.

Again, Bstroy used the school's colors for the sweatshirt. The shooting at Columbine occurred in 1999, and since then, the federal assault weapons ban expired and 210 children have died in school shootings, with 61 victims in 2018 alone.

Survivors of various school shootings and activists immediately condemned the collection.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed at Stoneman Douglas, tweeted that he's "upset," and asked, "Under what scenario could somebody think this was a good idea?"

Delaney Tarr, another MSD survivor, called the Bstroy collection " … disgusting. Unacceptable. Bullet holes?? People died. People DIED. Jesus."

Who is Bstroy, anyway?

Bstroy is a streetwear label founded by Brick Owens and Dieter "Du" Grams. In an interview with The New York Times, writer Jon Caramanica wrote that the brand's clothes are "primal, polyvalent, and sometimes mutant." The duo described their provocative ethos as "making violent statements." Grams has worked with Kanye West and Matthew Williamson.

Bstroy's work doesn't exist without context — it comes from a current trend in fashion.

The label would appear to follow, clumsily, in the Neo-Dadaist vein of Virgil Abloh of Off-White and Demna Gvasalia, the recently retired creative director of Vetements and Balenciaga; both designers envisioned ready-made cultural touchstones as pathetically common until imbued with meaning through their work. For example, Vetements staged its Spring/Summer 2020 collection in a McDonald's, with clothing resembling a fast-food shift manager and security guards.

Dada was about ascribing appreciative value onto something that has no inherent value beyond its functional usefulness. There was always a bit of irony with the Dadaists, but contemporary Neo-Dadaism is both cynical and superficial — it deploys neither critical analysis nor projectionary aesthetic value. Vetements mined blue collar workers for inspiration, Balenciaga used the Bernie Sanders logo and IKEA bags. But to what end? What is it saying? In my opinion, not much. It's an intrinsically lazy design process, and Bstroy is just the logical extreme of what Gvaslia and Abloh have been doing for years. 

Maybe now fashion can reconcile Neo-Dadaism's failure to meaningfully elaborate the basic object, especially when that object has its own profound sorrow attached. Marcel Duchamp's toilet didn't mean anything until he said it did; a Sandy Hook sweatshirt in the school colors riddled with bullet holes already comes with its own fresh tragedy. Art and design, no matter how careful, cannot change that tragic value.

The outrage comes as Sandy Hook Promise released their new PSA, "Back to School Essentials."

As the Bstroy news broke, Sandy Hook Promise, a gun control advocacy group founded by families of children who died at the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, released a PSA commercial. The PSA, called "Back to School Essentials," depicts children showing off their new school supplies as a mass shooting unfolds around them; the kids use their supplies to survive the attack. It's a deeply poignant, difficult ad to watch, but it makes an important point — children are dying in schools, and something must be done.

Owens and Grams responded to the backlash.

The brand's founders responded to the public and media criticism of their collection. On Owens' Instagram, he posted an image of the show's notes in effort to explain the school shooting sweatshirts. It reads, in part, "Sometimes life can be painfully ironic. Like the irony of dying violently in a place you considered to be a safe, controlled environment, like school. We are reminded all the time of life’s fragility, shortness, and unpredictability yet we are also reminded of its infinite potential."

Bstroy is also considering selling the school shooting sweatshirts. "[The sweatshirts] were initially intended to be just for the show," but Bstroy may put them into retail production, the founders told Time Magazine

Revelist has reached out to Bstroy for comment.