Which clothing brands are still actively using sweatshirts?
The fashion brands of the neo-Nazis
With some clothing brands, the reference to the right-wing extremist scene is completely clear. Anyone walking around with a sweater that says "Masterrace Europe" should be aware of their political statements. Anyone who wears a shirt from the "Consdaple" brand combined with an open jacket - suddenly only the middle letters (Co) NSDAP (le) are visible on their chest.
"These are companies that clearly produce from the scene for the scene, where the messages could not be clearer," says Michael Trube. He works for the mobile advice center against right-wing extremism in Berlin and is familiar with the fashion of right-wing extremist groups. Companies like "Masterrace", "Consdaple" or "Nationalist" make no secret of their proximity to the right wing scene. "Because it is clear that their customer base consists of 99 percent organized neo-Nazis," says Trube. Clothes made by Nazis for Nazis, so to speak.
With a jacket over the "Consdaple" inscription only the NSDAP remains
Category 2: a gray area
It becomes more difficult with the second category. Clothing companies where neither the owner nor the collections can be clearly assigned to the right-wing extremist milieu - but which are very likely to have the special target group in mind and produce ambiguous sweaters, jackets, T-shirts and trousers. Not so obvious, but claused, always with the option of choosing other interpretations.
"There was a sweater by Thor Steinar that said Nordmark and that was the name of a labor education camp under National Socialism," explains Trube. "However, in order to understand that, you have to be familiar with National Socialism, there is no picture of Hitler on it."
NPD MPs with "Thor Steinar" clothes in the Saxon state parliament. They were subsequently excluded for three sessions
"Thor Steinar" is still the most popular brand within the right-wing extremist scene. In the Bundestag, in some state parliaments and in numerous football stadiums, wearing the brand from Mittenwalde in Brandenburg is prohibited. Germanic characters, ethnic symbolism and ambiguous imprints have secured the company's popularity in the Nazi milieu.
Even if the company cannot prove that it deliberately produces for the scene - especially since the customer base is significantly larger than that of brands of openly right-wing extremist manufacturers. But: "I would be very surprised if the designers weren't aware of how many ambiguous designs and slogans their collections have," says Trube.
When right-wing extremists abuse brands
But what if right-wing extremist groups decide to adopt a certain brand - without doing anything of their own? Brands like "Fred Perry", "Ben Sherman", "Helly Hansen", "New Balance", "Dr. Martens" or perhaps the most prominent example "Lonsdale": they all became more or less popular in the right-wing extremist scene at some point.
The obesity of the English brands "Fred Perry" or "Ben Sherman" resulted on the one hand from their popularity within the British skinhead scene. The right also used the laurel wreath from "Fred Perry" as a symbol of victory. And the fact that the manufacturer once made a polo shirt in black, white and red was also a welcome look for right-wing extremists. With "Helly Hansen" the popularity arose from the first letters "HH", as a symbol for "Heil Hitler".
The problem of "New Balance"
The sports shoe manufacturer "New Balance" was undoed by its brand logo, a capital "N". Supporters of the right reinterpreted the letter as an abbreviation for "Nationalist" or "National Socialist".
Just recently there was again a lot of excitement about the shoe brand. After the deputy head of PR of "New Balance" declared in an interview with the "Wall Street Journal" that "things are going in the right direction with US President-elect Donald Trump," many shoe owners burned their sneakers and threw them throw them in the trash and share videos of them on social networks.
"New Balance" then tried to correct the statements, justifying what was said with a common line in trade policy. Like Trump, they are against the TTIP free trade agreement - "New Balance" is the only shoe brand still made in the USA and therefore has its own perspective on trade policy.
Despite the statement, "New Balance" could not prevent the excitement within the neo-Nazi scene from being exploited. On his ultra-right blog "The Daily Stormer", the neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin declared the shoes to be the "official brand of the whites" and called for new shoes from the brand to be acquired - as a common identifier.
So right-wing extremists know how to reinterpret brand symbols in their own interest, to adapt them in terms of design, to twist company statements and thus to build a constructed relationship with company brands.
Lonsdale is actively taking action against image
The English sports brand Lonsdale inadvertently achieved perhaps the greatest popularity within the right-wing extremist scene. Here, too, the reason was the middle letters: (Lo) NSDA (le). In contrast to the "Consdaple" brand, however, it is not a conscious decision. At the end of the 1990s, the brand began to take very active action against its unpopular popularity in the right-wing scene. It stopped delivering to neo-Nazi stores and mail order houses, sponsored anti-racist projects and football clubs known for having anti-fascist fans.
The English brand Lonsdale defends itself against its Nazi image
Nevertheless, says the managing director of the management consultancy "BrandTrust", Klaus-Dieter Koch, getting rid of such an ascribed image is extremely difficult. "They'll never be able to contain it entirely. The code is part of the scene. They have to learn to live with it. The only thing they can hope for is that other Nazi brands will grow."
It's about millions
In addition, not all companies go to such great lengths to combat their links with the right-wing extremist milieu. "If companies want to curb that, we say: withdraw from all channels that mainly have right-wing extremist customers. And that's where the wheat is separated from the chaff," says Koch. "Because it quickly comes down to millions that companies can lose in sales. That makes it painful."
The fact that neo-Nazis are opening up in fashion was a conscious decision, especially at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, in order to reach more young people, says right-wing extremism expert Michael Trube. "But of course Nazis are also simply fashion conscious". This is also suggested by the term "nipster": Nazis who dress like hipsters and fall back on popular brands. Bomber jackets and combat boots are often a thing of the past, especially in urban areas. Instead, right-wing extremists nowadays like to present themselves as modern and youthful - and companies have to decide whether to actively oppose it.
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