Broken Promises Dolls Kill Mandee Bence Jason Blake 2020
[Photo by: Jordan Page]

Following the unjust murder of George Floyd on May 25 by four Minneapolis police officers, the world erupted demanding justice for Floyd, as well as peace, change and equality for the Black community. Protests in support of Black Lives Matter spread across every state in the U.S. and throughout at least 60 countries. The protests demonstrate the opposition of systematic racism and the excessive force often used by police officers. Floyd is just one of many Black individuals who have fallen victim to police brutality. Racism and police brutality throughout the world remains a high-level issue that has yet to be abolished.

As protests grew in size and gained significant media attention, police officers on site displayed excessive means of slowing the protests by throwing tear gas into large crowds and shooting protesters with rubber bullets. Additionally, police officers arrested peaceful protesters and organizers, forcefully pushed people to the ground and had military vehicles on site. However, there were police officers such as in Flint, Michigan, and Lakewood, Ohio, who joined in the peaceful demonstrations, showing their solidarity with the movement.

Although protests across the country began peacefully, several turned chaotic due to police brutality, looting and destruction of property. As protests heightened in large metropolitan areas, including L.A., strict curfews were enacted. 

On May 31, Dolls Kill founder and owner Shoddy Lynn posted a photo of her Fairfax Avenue location in L.A. surrounded by police officers with the caption “Direct Action in its glory. #blacklivesmatter”

Following her insensitive comments seemingly promoting police brutality outside of her storefront, consumers of the brand and the alternative community quickly spoke out about a number of controversies Dolls Kill has been a part of in the last several years. The #BoycottDollsKill campaign quickly ignited on social media, and musicians, artists and others, such as Rico Nasty, SZA and Willam, have voiced their disapproval of the brand. 

Since Lynn’s initial post, she’s made her Instagram account private and released a message on the official Dolls Kill page apologizing for her earlier comments. In light of her comments, brand partners Killstar terminated their partnership June 3, and Broken Promises echoed that action by announcing the end of their relationship with the brand June 4.

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To our followers, customers, and community: Broken Promises is disappointed by Dolls Kill's recent actions and owner Shoddy Lynn's recent posts. We do not in any way condone those statements and they are not a representation of Broken Promises' position in these matters. However, we understand it is our responsibility to address this situation with our business partner and take action. Therefore, Broken Promises is terminating our relationship with Dolls Kill effective immediately and will not be shipping any additional orders. Broken Promises has always been a place for championing justice, diversity, and inclusivity. These values have been in our brand DNA since day one and we stand by them. We are all accountable for our own actions, but we know we have an obligation to speak up, educate ourselves and others, and better the system in any way we can. We value the input of every customer, follower, and fan. Thank you for your continued support.

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Following their partnership termination, Broken Promises founders Mandee Bence and Jason Blake, as well as Chapter 2 Agency co-founder Kenneth Loo, openly spoke to Alternative Press about their continued action to amplify Black voices, models, employees and all people of color. They also shared the values that Broken Promises was founded upon and reflected on the events that led to this decision.

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From my understanding, Broken Promises first began in 2017, and you formed a partnership with Dolls Kill in early 2019. How did that partnership first form?  

MANDEE BENCE: We previously had a relationship with Dolls Kill from the brand Chonies that I started before Broken Promises, so we had some connections to a few buyers over there. We introduced them to Broken Promises, and it seemed like a good fit for their juniors’ department at the time.

JASON BLAKE: My background is in sales. I previously worked at another company, a clothing company. I had been selling to Dolls Kill doing SMU projects and working closely with their team. So both me and Mandee had relationships over there before we introduced Broken Promises.

With Chonies, what year did your relationship with Dolls Kill start to form?

BENCE: I believe [Chonies] started in 2016, and my relationship with Dolls Kill probably goes back to 2016 or 2017.

When Broken Promises partnered with Dolls Kill, what was the working relationship like with the brand and with Shoddy Lynn?

BENCE: We work directly with more of the team over there on the buying and marketing side. We actually didn’t have a direct relationship with Shoddy or Bobby [Farahi], the owners.

When the situation happened with Dolls Kill, specifically Shoddy because she made a public post, what was your initial response?

BENCE: I was really taken aback by her post. They were a bit confusing to me. I didn’t really understand what she meant, but it appeared to me that she wasn’t an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement based on her post. I started following up on what Dolls Kill was posting publicly to see if there would be an explanation, either from Shoddy herself or from Dolls Kill. But there was silence about it for a long time, which caused me to rethink some of the values that Dolls Kill held.

I read in some material that Dina [Azar, Senior Account Executive/Chapter 2 Agency] sent over that your first reaction was to reach out to the Dolls Kill team directly, as well as to reach out to Shoddy directly to try to get some clarification on their action plan. You said, “I thought they wouldn’t reply right away. However, I never received a response. Their silence added to my disappointment and hurt with how they handled the whole situation.” You didn’t have a personal relationship with Shoddy, but you did try to reach out to her to gain some clarification?

BENCE: Yes. As a business partner, I felt a responsibility to first reach out to my direct contact, which were the buyers. I sent an email to them just to get clarification. And then directly after that, maybe an hour or two later, I thought about it, and I decided to send a personal email to Shoddy herself. I was thinking that maybe she would be able to have a more direct answer for me. But I didn’t get a reply from either party.

And to this day, you’ve still not received a reply from either party?

BENCE: No, not on email.

KENNETH LOO: [Mandee Bence and Jason Blake] emailed their buying contact, [and] they emailed Shoddy. And then on [Chapter 2 Agency’s] end, we were doing a similar approach, trying to get in contact with them as well. And there was not a response at all from any side of it, even the personal side of it. So the Broken Promises team has a very close relationship with their buyer there, and there were offline conversations about it, but [there] was never anything official from the brand. But we have been following up, and we have spoken to the brand directly. We actually talked with them [on the phone] yesterday for full transparency.

In December, the Dolls Kill team removed a T-shirt from their site that was produced by Broken Promises because there were allegations that the design had been stolen from another artist. How was this situation handled between Broken Promises and Dolls Kill aside from the removal of the T-shirt?

BENCE: So with that, there was a misunderstanding in which we had usage rights from a tattoo artist. Following us posting images of the product—which we already had a contract with the artist—the model, who these tattoos were on, reached out to us and put some public statements out there claiming that these images were stolen from her body. So there was a miscommunication between the artist and the model. 

Afterward, everything was cleared up. We did pay both the model and the artist for full usage of those images on products made by Broken Promises. There were some statements about Dolls Kill that continued to circulate, and Dolls Kill asked us for an explanation. We provided them with paperwork showing signatures from all parties. And we also donated all of the profits to helping Australian bushfire relief because both of these people are Australian. At the time, the wildfires were a huge problem. So we decided together to donate all of the proceeds. We relayed all of this information over to Dolls Kill, who said that they needed it in order to post the public statement. But Dolls Kill never addressed this situation publicly, so images and allegations from this continue to circulate to this day.

It was never made public knowledge that you were donating all of the proceeds to help the Australian bushfire relief?

BENCE: It was from Broken Promises’ social [media] as well as the tattoo artist’s social pages, but not from Dolls Kill. They never posted anything or made any statements about it.

I want to take you back a little bit. Dolls Kill has faced backlash in the past over sensitive material that they’ve printed or put on their web store. They had the “Goth Is White” T-shirt, which was released in 2016, as well as the “Dead Girls Can’t Say No” T-shirt, which received backlash in 2016. And they also released a headdress in 2014 that was very insensitive. After they released these items, you partnered with them in early 2019. Why did you still partner with them when this material had been on their site and associated with their brand?

BENCE: I wasn’t aware of the depth of the questionable items that had been previously sold on Dolls Kill until recently after Shoddy made the statements on her socials. A lot of this started to come to the surface. I was looking at Dolls Kill’s current website and current socials at the time that I made the decision to sell Broken Promises to them. And at that time, these weren’t red flags.

BLAKE: Just like what Dolls Kill did to Broken Promises without ever announcing anything about that. We followed them on social media, and they never announced anything or apologized.

BENCE: It seemed like everything was swept under the rug. So a lot of that stuff wasn’t made visible to the public, and we weren’t aware of it.

I understand that you weren’t made aware of these situations prior to your relationship with them. And you’re correct: They’ve never been a brand to address their mistakes. If you had known about the products that were so controversial, would you have partnered with them?

BLAKE: I don’t think we would have. It didn’t really take a long time for us to decide to walk away from them.

BENCE: Broken Promises has always been inclusive since day one. If you scroll back to the very first Instagram post, you’ll see every type of person represented. And we’ve always served as a voice for everyone.

So on June 2, this was Blackout Tuesday, Broken Promises did participate in the media blackout, and you did post this on your socials. But a statement announcing your partner termination with Dolls Kill was not released until Thursday, June 4, in regard to Shoddy’s controversial statements on her personal Instagram May 31. Why did you wait to make the announcement? What types of things were you trying to uncover to make the best decision for your brand?

BENCE: We have a responsibility as a business partner to reach out to our team at Dolls Kill directly to get clarification on their actual plan. Honestly, we were waiting for a reply. And we didn’t think it would be right for us to just post publicly and have our partners find out through social media that we were terminating a relationship that we had with them for a long time.

LOO: I’ll take some of the responsibility on this. I was slowing it down as a publicist because [there were] two things going on [with] Broken Promises that I think should be clear. We were issuing our own messaging, and we wanted to be extremely careful in the way that we were putting [it out] and do the diligence, both in terms of how Mandee and Jason felt but also in terms of what was necessary to be said. We were trying to give the space to see if we would get a response to any of the emails.

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Meanwhile, what also took so long is that we carefully prepared this statement about the termination. And that took a minute between us as a team, both on the PR end but also on the brand side, in terms of getting that messaging right because it was such an unexpected situation. I think again, as Mandee said, we were just trying to be responsible, in terms of both what we were saying but also in terms of the relationship that we had. Also in terms of the things that we were hearing from customers and the community that is Dolls Kill’s audience.

BLAKE: We also witnessed a lot of people in our circles who weren’t very educated on the topics post something and then quickly take it down and recant and try to make good for the mistakes that they’ve made due to what they know and what they are knowledgeable on. And I guess on my side, I wasn’t so quick to just cut her off or cut Dolls Kill off. Even her post, as way off as it was, I wanted to give her the opportunity to take it down and say, “Hey, this isn’t what we’re about” and make some type of explanation. But no message, no explanation—it is a response.

Speaking of Shoddy Lynn’s video message to the Dolls Kill audience, what were your thoughts on that?

BENCE: To me, it sounded scripted. It didn’t sound genuine. I also was a little taken aback that it lacked an apology to the brands like us who got dragged into this mess. It seemed like the apology was only directed at the customers, and [it was] like they were trying to win the customers back.

BLAKE: And we know the staff over there. Our buyer, who we’re really, really close with before we even sent out an email, we reached out to our buyer like, “Yo, what is going on over there?” It was an emotional call between her and Mandee. We know that the employees’ values really don’t match what Shoddy was doing and saying.

BENCE: Our buyers were out there protesting during that whole week that this was happening. While we were writing our statement about leaving Dolls Kill, our contacts over there were out there protesting.

BLAKE: And they are getting backlash. They’re getting people DMing them calling them racists because they work there.

BENCE: We’ve met a lot of the employees there. We love a lot of them. They’re super-cool people. And I just feel bad for a lot of them [because they] got dragged into this. It’s really unfortunate.

Do you support models, artists, musicians and consumers not wanting to work or shop with Dolls kill anymore?

BLAKE: Absolutely.

BENCE: I do. I think that we should continue leading by example.

Is there anything that Shoddy Lynn or Dolls Kill could have done better to support the Black Lives Matter movement?

BENCE: I think Shoddy retracting her statement immediately should have been the first thing. I also think donations directly to the Black Lives Matter movement [would have helped], as opposed to what their decision was, which was to purchase goods from Black designers and companies and then donate a portion of the proceeds of those items.

BLAKE: If you really think about it, they should have been doing that all along.

BENCE: Yeah, they should have been buying from Black designers since day one.

Since terminating your partnership with Dolls Kill, have you received praise or backlash from your audience?

BENCE: Our community has voiced that they support our decision in full.

BLAKE: We’re an emotional brand. We have an emotional attachment to all of our customers. I think the way that we’ve built our brand since day one, it was understood that this was going to happen just based on how our brand has operated in this area and being inclusive.

How do you think fashion brands can do better to amplify Black voices and models and cater to a larger audience that is inclusive of all people of color, all walks of life, all sexual orientations, etc.?

BENCE: I think it’s just about action. I think [we need to be] just doing those things year-round, supporting Pride when it’s not Pride Month, supporting all types of people and being inclusive all the time, not just when it’s trending.

BLAKE: We’re a firm believer in actions, and words are important. We do think that, but actions are much more important. So I feel like the route that we’ve taken is specifically just to do more and talk less. We just believe that’s the way to build a brand. I don’t think we really even thought about, “Oh, hey, we need a Black model” or anything like that. This is just second nature to us.

BENCE: We’ve always included all races across our team, models [and] photographers. Reposting customers has to refer to us, and that’s great. And that’s definitely what brands should be doing, for sure.

As a youth brand, what are you going to do to amplify Black voices and speak out against social injustice?

BENCE: We’re going to continue being a voice for our generation. We’re a generation that’s fueled by emotions, and that’s been the goal [for] both of us. Broken Promises was created to give a voice to people who don’t feel heard. And we’re going to continue creating and trying to be that voice for people [to] help them express their emotions by wearing them.

BLAKE: As well as just always being an example and a pillar that people can look to be like, “They’re the ones who are doing it right.”

Mandee and Jason, is there anything additional you’d like to add to this?

BLAKE: We did get on a call with them yesterday, with Bobby and the CEO.

BENCE: I feel like, honestly, that was all after the fact.

BLAKE: That conversation just even more clarified that we made the right decision.

Your initial thoughts were perhaps you could be a part of the brand again if they had the right intentions to move forward and make a significant change in their company? But from that conversation, it didn’t seem like that was aligning.

BLAKE: We were open. 

BENCE: There’s been companies that are big that have had restructuring. Many of the employees have made a decision or some of the leadership [has been] rearranged or owners even being pushed out. I didn’t want to say that there was no possibility of us ever working with them years in the future. But after the conversation with them yesterday, it didn’t seem like any type of big changes were in their plans.

I completely understand that. Is there anything else that you would like to add to this?

BENCE: I do want to say that I would like to discourage everybody from all the bullying that’s going on. I think that no matter what part of this whole situation you stand on, there is a lot of hatred going on, and the negativity and bullying is not fair. And I think people should try and inspire each other and educate each other instead of bullying.