LETHBRIDGE — A Lethbridge, Alta. man whose clothing brand called White and Privileged caused a firestorm of controversy says he is not racist.
Boe Zahorejko, who builds scaffolding for a living, said he decided to start a clothing line for something to do.
“I’m not really big into fashion,” he said. “I like high quality stuff and you can’t find it anymore.”
He said calling his brand White and Privileged was never meant to be racist or cause division.
“It was just kind of making fun of the whole situation, trying to make light of it,” he said.
Zahorejko said he placed an order for hoodies, T-shirts and caps months ago, before the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, Minn. in May.
His shipment arrived three days after a Black Lives Matter rally was held in Lethbridge. He says he had only been advertising online for about a week when it blew up on social media.
“People getting crazy and showing a lot of hate and anger and all that,” he said.
The ads included photos of what appears to be white teenagers or young adults, some holding guns, wearing T-shirts, caps and hoodies with the logo White and privileged.
Zahorejko was accused of promoting white supremacy and racism. People filed complaints with the city, Lethbridge Police Service, and several companies whose products appeared in the ads.
“For people that are screaming togetherness and equality and all this, they sure aren’t giving me a fair shake,” said Zahorejko.
“I don’t have a racist bone in my body, I never have.”
Zahorejko says he doesn’t believe he has ever benefited from “white privilege.”
He said he was raised by a single father who looked after three boys on a job that paid $6 an hour.
He said he experienced homelessness when he was younger, sleeping in the river valley for a number of months.
“I’d come up to work in the city, people never knew,” he said.
Zahorejko said he worked hard to overcome his challenges, and has been at the same job for 17 years.
He is now trying to get his life back together after all the negative backlash.
“I feel bad that so many people have animosity and hate toward this, because it’s not meant to divide anybody.”
Zahorejko said he had invested about $13,000 into his clothing brand, and had only begun to sell product when things went sour.
He has shut down his Facebook and Instagram pages and is working on closing his website. As for coming up with any future clothing designs, Zahorejko said everything has been tossed up in the air.
“Currently working on switching things up a little bit, and heading in a different direction, and maybe not bother so many people,” he said.