Stylebook snapshot: Lands' End's story on Gloria Steinem sparks outrage
March 1, 2016 9:46 AM
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Gloria Steinem at a conference in February. She was interviewed for the Lands’ End catalog by the company’s chief executive.
By Sara Bauknecht / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
From time to time, fashion brands conjure up some controversy. Abercrombie & Fitch, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel are a few repeat offenders that come to mind, usually for selling some sort of graphic tee with a completely insensitive slogan on it or running a highly sexualized (and often sexist) ad campaign.
One of the latest brands to find itself in a crossfire of criticism is (wait for it ...) Lands’ End. Yep, the 53-year-old style and home goods retailer that’s synonymous with causal clothing with a nautical sensibility. Plus, it offers a line of dress-code appropriate uniforms for children through adults. So what could a company started for sailors’ gear do to stir a slew of boycotts and thousands of disgruntled social media posts?
In its spring catalog just released, it published an article about Gloria Steinem as part of a first-time feature called “Legends.” New CEO Federica Marchionni, formerly North American president for Dolce & Gabbana, chatted with the famed feminist about the ongoing fight for equal rights among men and women. Lots of readers were irate — not because of what Ms. Steinem said, but because of what she represents (a plea for reproductive rights, access to safe and legal abortions, women’s rights to control what happens to their bodies, etc.).
Ms. Steinem didn’t even directly address those topics in the article, but her very presence in the pages of Lands’ End’s catalog didn’t sit well with some shoppers, particularly parents of parochial school children who buy the brand’s uniforms. Lands’ End promptly pulled the article from its website.
“It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw the recent promotion that way, we heard them,” the company said in a statement. “We sincerely apologize for any offense.”
That apology, in turn, offended a whole bunch of others.
“Last time I checked, ‘feminism’ is much more than abortion,” one woman commented on Lands’ End’s Facebook page.
“What a terrible message to send to all the women and girls who wear your clothes. I’m sorry you see equal rights for women as a divisive issue,” another comment said.
If Lands’ End thought Ms. Steinem’s story was worth being in its catalog, it should have stood its ground and stood up for the reason it ran the story in the first place.
Take American Girl, for instance. Last fall, Christian group One Million Moms organized a boycott against the company (known for its historic and contemporary doll lines) after it ran in its magazine a story about an adolescent girl who helps foster children and a photo of her with her dads, who are in a same-sex relationship. American Girl didn’t apologize for spotlighting diversity. It didn’t cower in concern about losing customers because a perfectly fine story upset a few people.
Instead, a spokeswoman told ABC News, “We are proud to have shared Amaya’s story with our readers.”
The Lands’ End debacle is by no means the first time fashion has blurred the lines between clothing and political causes. Just a couple of weeks ago designers Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch and Public School’s Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow announced they created unisex graphic tees for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s new Made for History collection, which is available through her online store. One is black and reads “MAKE HERSTORY” across the front. Another is white with “Women’s rights are human rights” splashed on it in a colorful font. Even Vogue editor Anna Wintour was spotted wearing one in the front row at New York Fashion Week last month.
Like Ms. Steinem, Ms. Clinton is a champion for women’s rights (including abortion rights). Probably some of these designers’ loyal customers cringe at her proposed policies, and consequently maybe some of them will stop buying their fashions. But will they pull their pieces from her online store? Probably not. Think Ms. Wintour cares if her pro-Hillary shirt will spark some to stop reading Vogue? Probably not. They believe in what Ms. Clinton stands for, or they wouldn’t have made or worn the shirts.
Lands’ End needs to figure out what it believes in, especially if it wants to expand its reach as a lifestyle brand, like its new CEO told Glamour. Who is the Lands’ End shopper? Is it families with conservative values with moms and dads outfitted in the brand’s attractive-yet-understated staples and boys and girls in parochial school uniforms? Or is it men and woman who believe either gender should be free to decide what’s best for their wardrobes and their bodies and pass those sentiments along to their kids?
In the meantime, the rest of us are still waiting for our apology ...
For more from Post-Gazette style editor Sara Bauknecht, visit the PG’s fashion blog Stylebook at www.post-gazette.com/stylebook. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SaraB_PG or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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