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Amazon Labor Union’s Christian Smalls talks about his style

On Friday morning, before the release of the results of a vote that would mark the first union victory at Amazon, Christian Smalls dressed as he would pretty much any other day.

Mr Smalls, the 33-year-old union president and former Amazon worker, donned a black durag and paired it with a fitted baseball cap, hoodie and track pants, all in red , his favorite colour. Over his sweatshirt, he donned a pair of gold chains and a red Amazon Labor Union t-shirt to show solidarity with workers.

But that day, as Amazon union supporters celebrated the results, Mr Smalls stood out in the crowd – a bold, bubbly leader in streetwear and chunky sunglasses, a man Amazon had under -estimated from the beginning. His months-long battle against one of the biggest companies in the world was not fought in a suit and tie or even jeans, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos often wears. Instead, Mr. Smalls did it in a sweat, with sneakers on his feet and grills in his mouth.

“I’m one of them,” Mr. Smalls said in a phone interview on Monday. “I don’t like to wear the same clothes as everyone else.”

Mr Smalls, who lives in Newark, described his style as a nod to hip-hop culture. He’s a former rapper and likes to express himself through streetwear, even in the face of his detractors.

“I read comments on my social media and see people shooting at me all the time,” he said, citing critics who couldn’t take him seriously because of his clothes.

“These are the people I want to prove wrong,” he continued. “It really motivates me to keep dressing the way I do because I want you all to understand that it’s not about how I look. It’s a job that I do.”

But the clothes undeniably set him apart from Amazon management. On the day of the recount, he clashed with company-suited lawyers, indeed most of the union organizers.

“Chris is shameless himself,” Connor Spence, vice president of membership for the Amazon Labor Union, wrote in a text message. “He’s not trying to be someone he’s not, and I think on some level the workers can sense that.”

As a young boy growing up in Hackensack, NJ, Mr. Smalls was often teased for not wearing the latest trends. It was only as a teenager and after starting to work that he began to develop his own style.

“It was only because I couldn’t afford the clothes everyone was wearing at the time,” he said. “Whatever I wear, I had to make it warm. I had to make it look like it was worth a lot of money even though it wasn’t.

The clothes became a connection point between him and those who followed his story at Amazon. Last week, after the vote result was announced, many people noticed her mermaid red tracksuit – a distinctive look for a leader. And when he talks to students about unionizing, as he often does now, he says they are often struck by his style.

“When they look at me, they see themselves in me,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Wow, you’re taking on Bezos and you look like you could hang with us.'”

Amazon fired Mr Smalls in 2020, saying he violated a quarantine order by attending a strike to protest the company’s security conditions. He doesn’t shop as much as he used to, but he loved going to Urban Outfitters, H&M and thrift stores. He wore a lot of Supra sneakers. Occasionally he wears Jordans.

“If I were to run for president, I would look like this,” he said. “I would walk into the White House with a pair of Jordans because that’s who I am as a person.”

However, these days he mostly wears the union shirts he helped design, which come in a range of hues – black, white, hot pink, teal – meant to contrast the shirts Amazon gives to its warehouse workers.

“We have to look like Skittles,” he said, referring to the multicolored candies. “And I said one thing that’s going to help us succeed with this union is that our equipment is going to be a lot better than theirs. Our drip is going to be a lot better.


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