Christian Smalls of the Amazon Workers Union for his style

On Friday morning, before the results of the vote that would mark Amazon’s first union victory were announced, Christian Smalls dressed as he would on any other day.

Smalls, the 33-year-old union president and former Amazon employee, wore a black jacket and tied it with a matching baseball cap, hoodie, and track pants — all in red, his favorite color. On his sweatshirt, he threw on a pair of gold chains and a red Amazon union shirt to show solidarity with the employees.

But on that day, as Amazon Consortium supporters celebrated the results, Smalls stood out in the crowd — showing off champagne in streetwear and oversized sunglasses, a man Amazon had underestimated from the start. The months-long battle against one of the world’s largest corporations wasn’t in a suit and tie or even a pair of jeans, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos often wears. Instead, Mr. Smalls did it in sweat, sneakers on his feet and grills in his mouth.

“I’m one of those,” Mr Smalls said in a phone interview on Monday. “I don’t like to wear the same things 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 enjoys expressing himself through street fashion, even in the face of critics.

“I read the comments on my social media, and I see people shooting me all the time,” he said, citing critics who can’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 my appearance. It’s the work that I do.”

But the clothes undoubtedly distinguished him from the management at Amazon. On the day of the counting of votes, he stood out in contrast to the company’s junior lawyers, and even most union organizers.

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

As a young kid growing up in Hackensack, New Jersey, Mr. Smalls was often mocked for not wearing the latest fashions. It wasn’t until his teens and started working that he started developing his own style.

“It just stemmed from the fact that I couldn’t afford the clothes everyone was rocking at the time,” he said. “Whatever I was wearing, I had to make it hot. I had to make it look like it was worth a lot of money even though it wasn’t.”

The clothes became a point of contact between him and those who followed his story on Amazon. Last week, after the result of the vote was announced, many people commented on a red tracksuit – a signature look for a leader. And when he talks to the students about the organization of work, as he often does now, he said they are often amazed by his method.

“When they look at me,” he said, “they see themselves in me.” “They’re like, ‘Wow, you’re going to take on Bezos and it looks like you can hang out with us.'” “

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

“If I were to run for president, I would look just like that,” he said. “I was walking into the White House with a couple of Jordanians 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 colors — black, white, hot pink and teal — meant to contrast the shirts Amazon offers warehouse employees.

“We need to look like Skittles,” he said, pointing to the multi-colored candy. “And I said one thing that will help us succeed with this union is that our equipment will be much better than theirs. Drip will be much better.”

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