Kerby Jean-Raymond knows how to send a political message. The Haitian-American designer of Pyer Moss regularly takes cues from his revolutionary roots in order to disrupt the world around him. In 2016, his spring menswear line called attention to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. Three years later, his collection shown at Brooklyn’s Kings Theater celebrated Black people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and their contributions to pop culture. Earlier this week, in celebration of Pyer Moss’ 10-year anniversary, Jean-Raymond organized a “Loot-Out” sale event that left the fashion set buzzing.
The rules were simple: Shoppers purchased tickets granting them a couple minutes inside a shopping center to grab anything and everything they could. While the ticket prices weren’t cheap, the chance to make off with even just a few pieces made it worthwhile.
I found out about the Loot-Out two weeks ago from a Pyer Moss Instagram Reel featuring footage from the Black Lives Matter protests and the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The promo seemed to glorify anarchy, spurring mixed reactions. The comments section of the video was full of praise from mostly young, Black people, some calling the announcement a form of “high art” and “theater.” Not everyone was a fan though. Other commenters claimed the stunt encouraged harmful behaviors. One person even posited that it made light of stealing, positioning Black people as criminals.
When I arrived at the Loot-Out, I was full of nervous excitement. I had received an email from the Pyer Moss team one day earlier with an address in Brooklyn, which had been kept under wraps until then. It was all so secretive and thrilling. The lobby of the building we were directed to was teeming with well-dressed people holding large empty bags. I kicked myself for leaving my Telfar at home. As the start time drew closer, a diverse group of people continued to spill into the holding room, a majority of them beautiful Black people of all genders.
After our IDs and bags were checked, two dozen of us were led up a freight elevator and into an office building. We took off our coats and unnecessary layers in order to maximize space for the clothes we were “looting.” Then Jean-Raymond himself walked into the room to greet us. Our faces lit up with shock, as he expressed gratitude at our participation.
As he spoke, my eyes scanned the products in the space, neatly arranged atop filing cabinets and hung on clothing racks. Then, Pyer Moss team member Phia Dennis, who is also the co-founder of ESSENCE Girls United, an organization that fosters community among young Black Women, set a timer. Everyone beelined for different corners of the room. Some rushed to the outerwear and sneakers, while others went after shirts and athleisure. I made my way to a rack with tops from a 2019 collection.
In the end, I left with two shirts, two dresses, a pair of slacks, sneakers, a bag, a denim jacket, and an oversized poncho. I felt encouraged to take what I wanted without being greedy, honoring a collective commitment amongst my fellow looters. The Pyer Moss team answered our questions about where coveted items were located, while closely monitoring us to ensure we each only took what we could wear out. It was the most controlled “chaos” we’d ever been part of. As we exited, we all took turns detailing the items we were most proud of securing.
A lot of the pushback to the Loot-Out leaned into the idea that looting is inherently bad. But Jean-Raymond has made a career asking audiences to think more critically about what we label as violent. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his 1968 speech “The Other America,” a riot is the language of the unheard. Four years later, when Angela Davis was asked to condemn the violence of the Black Panther Party, she replied: “When someone asks me about violence, I find it incredible because it means the person asking that question has absolutely no idea what Black people have gone through and experienced in this country.”
With events like the Loot-Out, Jean-Raymond asks us, as consumers, to consider why working-class people are labeled criminals for petty theft, while luxury fashion executives regularly rip off both consumers and laborers with impunity. And which version is more violent, anyway? He invites us to revisit looting as retribution and reclamation in an industry that pillages and marginalizes people for ideas, money, and attention without reciprocity.
Jean-Raymond sees what many don’t or maybe can’t accept: that fashion houses don’t need to fear reasonable accessibility because when brands deliver, people spend. Two Black women I talked with after the Loot-Out revealed that they’d flown in from Texas after struggling to snag Pyer Moss during previous drops, likely thwarted by resellers. For both of them, the trip to New York was not just a chance to own Pyer Moss and appreciate all the beautiful Black culture of the city, it was also an opportunity to be a part of history. You know you’ll be remembered when you’re the one starting conversations.
Brea Baker is racial and gender justice activist working locally and nationally towards the liberation of all oppressed people with an emphasis on Black people and women. When not organizing, you can find her traveling the world, listening to Beyonce, or manifesting the life her ancestors deserved.