Makeup guru Jackie Aina is under fire for using a slogan associated with the Nigerian movement against police brutality as an "aesthetic" in her new candle collection.
Aina, 35, started as a beauty YouTuber and is known for advocating for inclusivity for people of color in the makeup industry. After calling out the brand Too Faced for its limited shade range, Aina collaborated with the brand to expand its foundation collection to include darker skin tones.
On Thursday, Aina's home goods brand FORVR Mood announced four new candle fragrances, one of which was named "Sòro Sókè." The phrase, which translates to "Speak louder" in Yoruba, was a rallying cry used in demonstrations against police brutality in Nigeria.
Nigerian social media users have denounced the candle fragrance name as insensitive, and criticized Aina for being slow to use her platform to boost the movement at the height of the protests. Aina's name was trending on Twitter on Friday.
Representatives for Aina and FORVR Mood did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Aina posted an apology to her Instagram page on Friday evening. She acknowledged that the candle name “severely hurt” members of the Nigerian community, and said that “it will never happen again.”
“Empowerment and respect is the ethos of FORVR and that was unfortunately not properly conveyed in the naming of the candle,” Aina said. “We accept full responsibility and I recognize the gravity of this error; to that effect, this candle will be pulled from the market and production immediately. I apologize for the hurt this has caused and I thank you for holding us accountable.”
Aina has been criticized for her silence on the #EndSARS movement, a youth-led campaign to disband Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The police unit ran a "horrific reign of impunity," Amnesty International stated in a June 2020 report. The organization said it documented at least 82 cases of "torture, ill treatment and extra-judicial execution" between January 2017 and May 2020.
Activists have called for the disbanding of SARS for years. A video that circulated in early October 2020, appearing to show SARS officers fatally shooting a man, sparked protests against the police unit across Nigeria. The police unit was disbanded on Oct. 11, 2020 following global pressure, but demonstrations demanding law enforcement reform continued through the year.
The phrase “Sòro Sókè” was used as a rallying cry during the demonstrations, and became representative of the Nigerian movement against police brutality and corruption.
Aina was criticized for not publicly supporting the movement until after SARS was disbanded. Following mounting pressure to address #EndSARS from followers, Aina posted a thread of infographics in October 2020 calling for police reform in Nigeria and justice for victims of SARS-related violence. She also expressed support in an Instagram post five days later.
Some of Aina’s followers weren't satisfied with her posts. Writer TaireTamarah responded, "Tagged you in a tweet in the heat of things, as a Nigerian other Nigerians in the makeup and beauty space look up to, it's sad that it took you this long to speak up."
The release of the “Sòro Sókè” candle prompted a fresh wave of criticism against Aina. In a YouTube video about the name, Aina described the sandalwood and cardamom-scented candle as "bold," and said she wanted to "give it a name that kind of matched the energy" of the fragrance.
Twitter users compared the significance of the phrase to those of other social movements. Anthropology researcher Princess Banda described the fragrance name as "immoral," writing, "This is the equivalent of a brand naming a product '#BLM,' 'Say Her Name,' or 'Free Palestine.'"
Others accused her of embracing her heritage only when convenient. Twitter user Imoteda, who also runs an online candle store, said that Aina's "Nigerian cosplay" was "beyond disrespectful" to the victims of police brutality and the protesters who were killed. Twitter user Uchenna_ap criticized Aina for "playing Nigerian dress up party and trying to profit off the phrase that memorialized the unjust death and suffering of innocent Nigerians."
Aina also received new backlash for her October 2020 Instagram post, which included an image of a perfume bottle with the words "END SARS" and "EAU DE PROTESTS."
"Young people were dying in Nigeria and this is what Jackie Aina posted in support of the movement because 'aesthetics must aesthetics,'" Twitter user TheOluwabukunmi said. "She now wants to make money off that same movement??? Nope, not happening. How do we recall those candles, please?"
The controversy around the candles, as well as Aina's approach to social causes, also sparked discussion online about the ethics of influencer culture. Writer Zuva Seven tweeted that the industry is "hinged on marketing and selling products."
"So yeah, aestheticizing your culture to sell candles makes sense in that aspect," Seven wrote in a thread. "No hate on influencers either! People have to do what they have to do. However, it's very important to realize not everything needs to be seen (or created) as branding potential or content. Discernment is key, particularly in industries such as these."