According to a representative for the company, all items sold by Phat Buddha are named after New York City streets or landmarks. Though Rikers Island is indeed located within the five boroughs, it has been described as "savage" and "inhumane" by governor Andrew Cuomo, who has called on the city and its mayor, Bill De Blasio, to shut it down, according to the New York Daily News. It's no surprise, then, that the style (which is currently being sold on the brand's website and on Shopbop) started gaining attention on social media for its seemingly insensitive product name — as well as the irony that the garment wouldn't even be allowed inside, according to the prison's visitor dress code.
Rikers Island, and the violence associated with it (especially as it pertains to its treatment of teen inmates), have been the subject of various reports and documentaries, including Spike's Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which premiered this month. The latter tells the story of a former inmate who took his own life after spending three years at the facility, part of it in solitary confinement, for allegedly stealing a backpack, The Huffington Post reports. In 2016, prison reform organization JustLeadership USA worked with the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice to launch a campaign to close Rikers because, as its website reads: "'reforms' are not working."
In response to the criticism on social media, Phat Buddha released the following statement to Refinery29, clarifying the inspiration behind the naming of the style: "For those of you in the know, in 1957, Northeast flight 823 crashed into Rikers Island. That day, 20 people lost their lives and 78 people were injured. The name Rikers Island was chosen and the leggings [were made] in red to honor and remember those who lost their lives in this tragic event." It has issued the same note on social media. (The tweet has since been deleted.)
We followed up with Phat Buddha about whether or not the brand has plans to pull or rename the leggings, given the response its received on social media, and we'll update our story when we hear back.