Aina, who is Nigerian American, is known in the beauty world for being an advocate for people of color. She has over 3.5 million subscribers and launched her lifestyle brand, Forvr Mood, in 2020, offering home goods and candles, which is said to have sold $700,000 worth of products within the first four hours of launching. The candle line is now also sold at Sephora.
On Thursday, in honor of Aina’s birthday, Forvr Mood announced the release of four new candles that were part of a collection to honor her Nigerian heritage. One of the candles was named Sòro Sókè, which translates to “speak louder” in Yoruba, a phrase that was a popular chant in protests against police brutality in Nigeria starting in 2017.
The #EndSARS movement was a campaign to disband Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which, according to a June 2020 Amnesty International report, conducted a “horrific reign of impunity.” Between January 2017 and May 2020, the report found “at least 82 cases of torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution.” The unit was dissolved in October 2020, but the demonstrations continued.
Aina has been criticized in the past for not using her platform to support the #EndSARS movement. She did speak out on Oct. 11, 2020 — the day SARS was disbanded — by sharing information about the movement on Twitter. But according to followers, she did not voice her opinion on the protests or SARS until then.
“Dear Non-Nigerians,” one Twitter user wrote. “The reason why this is receiving so much backlash is because Jackie Aina shamelessly named one of the candles ‘Soro Soke’ which translates into ‘speak up ‘. It was one of the rallying cries during EndSars. But Jackie was notably silent during the protests.”
Another Twitter user compared the situation to “a brand naming a product ‘#BLM’, ‘Say Her Name’, or ‘Free Palestine’.”
In a since-deleted video, Aina said she named the candle something that she thought “matched the energy of what I was smelling.” She described the sandalwood-scented candle as “the bomb.”
A day after the candles were launched, Forvr Mood took down the listing for Sòro Sókè from its website. Over the weekend, Aina took to Instagram to publicly apologize and announce that the candle had been pulled from production.
Other social media users pointed out that the situation was indicative of a larger problem within the influencer economy — that the job “will never be ethical.”
“It’s hinged on marketing and selling products,” writer Zuva Seven tweeted. “So yeah, aestheticising your culture to sell candles makes sense in that aspect.”
A Reddit user explained that there can be a way for brands to go into political themes without creating chaos by putting the funds made from products to good use.
“IMO [this] is the right way to do it,” the post reads. “Raise awareness of these organizations and issues and put those funds to good use. Which, you know, is very much not what happened here [with Aina]. ‘Missed the mark’ is putting it lightly.”
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