Earlier this week influencer Sarah Stevenson excitedly wrote on Instagram about how she "can't wait" to release her new activewear range while sharing a sneak peek with fans.

But less than a day later Stevenson – known by her YouTube handle Sarah's Day – tearfully announced she had pulled the collection over a backlash to the hairstyle she was wearing in campaign images.

The 27-year-old Sydneysider was accused of cultural appropriation for wearing her hair in two colourful braids in videos and imagery that were part of a promotional campaign for Sydney fashion brand White Fox Boutique.

As the backlash to her look grew, Stevenson was also slammed for deleting comments that criticised her sporting a hairstyle that "screams cultural appropriation".

Advertisement

"Your lack of awareness and belief that you can just delete comments of people trying to educate you is disrespectful and concerning," one person wrote.

Fans were offended by Sarah's braid hairstyle in imagery for her new activewear collection. Photo / Instagram / @sarahs_day
Fans were offended by Sarah's braid hairstyle in imagery for her new activewear collection. Photo / Instagram / @sarahs_day

The influencer says she is now "scared" to offend people further by wearing the wrong hairstyle.

In a series of videos posted to her Instagram with her fiance Kurt Tilde, Stevenson said she would previously "always wear two braids" without realising it was cultural appropriation.

"I just get sad if I make anyone upset you know," she tearfully admitted.

"My whole channel and everything I do is making you happy and empowering everyone and anyway.

"I don't want you to feel sorry for me, I just get really anxious and shaky if I make people sad, and I hate conflict."

Sarah said she was 'heartbroken' her hairstyle had offended people. Photo / Instagram @sarahs_day
Sarah said she was 'heartbroken' her hairstyle had offended people. Photo / Instagram @sarahs_day

Stevenson said she was "not making excuses or trying to justify" and had got her inspiration for the braids from photos of people sporting the hairstyle at Coachella.

"Not once did I even think about cultural appropriation," she said. "If that even crossed my mind I wouldn't have done it because you guys know I hate conflict, I hate controversy."

Advertisement

After receiving the backlash, a "heartbroken" Stevenson said she had spoken to White Fox Boutique, and both agreed the campaign should be reshot.

View this post on Instagram

With a new activewear campaign centred around confidence, strength, embracing and loving our bodies, I’m absolutely heartbroken some people and communities are feeling the exact opposite right now. I am so sorry and I want to make it right. In no way am I trying to make ‘excuses’ or justify my actions, I’m responding and providing answers to the questions I’ve been asked as to why we chose the double braids hairstyle for the campaign. In my first activewear campaign, I wore 4 braids. Our vision was to take inspiration from all of my previous campaigns, but elevate it. I created a mood board which was full of festival hairstyles including colour, length and braids. We selected various elements of our past activewear campaigns to show the evolution of my life and fitness since becoming pregnant etc. Upon posting the images, i have been made aware of the controversy surrounding this kind of hair style. As I wear my hair in braids regularly and have had blonde extensions braided before, we genuinely thought it was an elevated photoshoot choice to add the blue extensions in to match the collection colours. Again, please don’t take this as me making ‘excuses’ I just want to provide clarity and reasoning as to how this happened and why I “thought this was ok”. It genuinely breaks my heart that I could ever offend anyone, particularly surrounding a project that was based on feeling empowered, embracing our differences and feeling confident in our own skin. I was so excited for you to see this campaign we all worked so hard on, however, not at the expense of offending anyone. I’ve been doing as much research as I can regarding the topic of cultural appropriation and I’d be lying if I said I completely understood what was ok and what wasn’t. I’m still doing my best to understand and be aware. This uncertainty and sadness in my heart has led me to pull the campaign. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. That was never my intention. I want EVERYONE to feel empowered, valued and confident. Please know that I love you all and I’m doing my best at being respectful of everyone’s opinion.

A post shared by Sarah (@sarahs_day) on

"I just feel bad for everyone who's offended, but also Kurt and the White Fox team who put hours and hours of work into the prep," she said.

"I'm so sorry, I screwed up, I was misinformed, uneducated. I'm doing my best now to educate myself and use my platform."

Stevenson also shared a written apology on her Instagram, writing that it "genuinely breaks my heart that I could ever offend anyone".

'I'm so scared to do anything wrong'

After posting her apologies, Stevenson shared on Instagram that she and the online fashion retailer were now "scrambling" to reshoot the campaign with her hair styled into just one blonde braid.

The influencer said she was upset and feeling drained over the prospect of having to start from scratch.

In the new campaign Sarah wore her hair in one plait. Photo / Instagram @sarah_day
In the new campaign Sarah wore her hair in one plait. Photo / Instagram @sarah_day

"This campaign has just really tested us emotionally, it's been so full on, and just to scrap it all was just crazy. Three months nearly of work was just erased today," she said in one story.

Stevenson's decision to pull the campaign got a mixed response on Instagram. Some fans questioned whether it meant "white women can't braid their hair".

"Oh my goodness when did the world become so sensitive," one person wrote.

READ MORE:
Instagram influencer says companies cut ties when she refused to reduce fees during pandemic
Influencer Myka Stauffer slammed for 'rehoming' adopted autistic son
What's the real salary of a travel influencer, and what do they look like?
Makaia Carr calls out fellow Instagram influencers: 'Stop accepting freebies'

However, others pointed out Stevenson did the "right thing" by apologising and acknowledging the cultural meaning behind the hairstyle.

"Anyone who is white who are saying wow can't believe they made her apologise y'all need to check yourself," one person wrote.

"Sarah did the right think by recognising a mistake. It is appropriation [because it is] based on the style of the braid and adding extensions – the style came from the black community as a way to maintain and keep their hair healthy."

"Blacks and POC [people of colour] get ridiculed and don't get jobs based on their hair even NOW, so when a white person does it and gets applauded … that's the problem," another commenter said.