Lands’ End caters to women looking for reasonably priced, conservative clothing for themselves and their families. The designs follow the trends but are reliably un-risqué and tend toward classic cuts. That’s how I would describe them, anyway—as a regular shopper at Lands’ End. Someone more fashionable and less charitable might also classify them as middle class mom clothes.
Given that clientele, one would think the Lands’ End marketing department would stay out of politics. In such a divided and often passionately partisan country, little is gained by appearing to take sides in the culture wars or showing one’s red or blue political stripes.
Yet Lands’ End has incautiously taken a great leap into the political waters by proudly featuring Gloria Steinem as a “Legend” in their most recent catalogue. In addition to showcasing her in their finery, they include an interview conducted by Lands’ End’s CEO Federica Marchionni. The interview avoids hot button political topics—the uninformed reader would have no inkling of Steinem’s strident brand of feminism—instead offering a series of vacuous exchanges about pursuing one’s dreams, overcoming challenges, and living a meaningful life.
In Steinem’s honor, Land’s End is also offering an “ERA” tote bag, presumably to build support for the decades-long feminist effort to add an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. It’s hard to imagine that this will be a big seller: The push for the ERA stalled long ago, overcome by the steady progress of women in just about every facet of life and the fact that we already are equal in the eyes of the law; we don’t need an ERA and we don’t need an ERA tote bag, either.
Presumably, the Steinem spread was not intended to boost Land’s End profits by selling ERA bags. Rather, this effort must have been meant to win Marchionni applause from many in the sophisticated fashion world. It doesn’t seem to be generating much enthusiasm from Lands’ End customers. Just hours after the interview became available online (and it appears to have now disappeared from the company’s website, although it still exists in print form) Lands’ End’s Facebook feed is littered with posts and comments pledging to boycott the store and expressing incredulity that the company would so purposely alienate their customer base.
Here’s just a sampling:
CE Elayne: No need to send me your catalogue any longer with the backing of Gloria. Disgusting.
Sterling Jaquith: I am pretty surprised about the Gloria Steinem thing too. We love lands end for their modest bathing suits. Their products are high quality, fashionable and modest! Now… I’m not sure if we’ll buy them this year.
Melody Lyons: I also received that catalog and agree. After being a 20-year customer, I’m done. Gloria Steinem?? What an odd business decision.
Eileen Finegan D’Angelo: When I checked the latest LE catalog I was shocked to see Gloria Steinem featured. Lands’ End has always been, to me, reliable in providing quality product and steered clear of controversial topics. I was really disappointed to see Ms. Steinem portrayed as a role model. To me she represents the worst of the feminist movement. I won’t be shopping at Lands’ End any more unless they can find an alternative individual to feature who represents my views, perhaps someone like Carly Fiorina or Lila Rose. It’s a dangerous path when companies being to show political preferences. You won’t be able to please everyone, and you will likely alienate many more than you please.
Perhaps Lands’ End’s public relations team had thought that this effort would be a way to increase engagement with their customers, and truly had planned to balance the Steinem interview with one from a well-known conservative in the next catalogue. Perhaps Condoleezza Rice is slated as the next “Legend,” and Carly Fiorina, Senator Kelly Ayote (R-NH), Governor Nikki Haley (SC), and Governor Susan Martinez (AZ) are being contacted right now to pick their outfits for an upcoming photo shoot.
Yet, somehow, I doubt it. Moreover, featuring a conservative to balance out Steinem really won’t do the trick. Some conservative customers may be pleased, but then Lands’ End’s Facebook feed would surely be flooded by an equal number of irate liberal customers, horrified to see their political foe lounging around in their favorite jeans and cardigan set.
There are many appropriate places for political debate. Clothing catalogues aren’t one of them. Most Americans don’t want their decisions about what to wear or where to shop to be a political statement. If they are forced to make it one, they can take their business elsewhere. Looks like Lands’ End is learning that lesson the hard way.