Thursday, February 21, 2008

Keep 'em honest for peace

A friend of mine doesn’t like war and militarism. Good for her. So when she was looking for fun clothes to give her granddaughter, she wasn't very happy to find theitem pictured above on sale at the website of one of the pioneers in marketing to athletic women.

The site had a complaint form. She used it. This is what she remembers writing.

I received your catalogue for the first time and was pleased to see another source of athletic clothes for women (I have a very athletic granddaughter). However, I was appalled to find you advertising "camo" items (a "cute' word for camouflage?).

As someone who has lost 2 family members in two wars I am very disturbed that you are featuring military "fashion." It is inconsistent to try to "save the grasslands" with socks and promote war at the same time.

Catherine Cusic

She actually got an answer.

Dear Catherine:

Georgena [Terry] forwarded your email to me and I've spoken to our apparel team about your reaction to our camo garments. We did not intend for these products to have any kind of military connection. Our goals in sourcing apparel products are always to seek out distinctive, fashionable garments for cycling and casual lifestyle use. Being a company primarily of women who are mothers, grandmothers and environmentally-minded activists, the last thing we want to promote is war or destruction of life. In fact, what we use as our #1 criteria for products around here is the concept of fun.

I picked this up off a women's wear website and feel this is more in keeping with the intent of both the manufacturer (prana) who makes these garments, and in our choice for selling the garments:

The origin of camouflage actually predates war—by about 20 million years, when certain cephalopods varied their pigmentation to match their background. Since then, it has been employed by various members of the animal kingdom. In the late 19th century, an American artist named Abbott Thayer observed that the coloring of many animals graduated from almost dark on their backs to white on their bellies. He concluded that this optic trick “often renders the animal invisible” by breaking up the surface of an object and making the three-dimensional appear flat....but how to explain its evolution into a fashion fad? One theory is that it can be seen as the logical extension of the trend towards faux snake, tiger, leopard, and zebra prints, all used in the wild as optical illusions to interfere with depth perception and adopted by the fashion world for their beauty.

I'm so sorry we have offended you and please be assured that we take this seriously.

Paula Dyba
VP Marketing
Terry, the first and last name in women's cycling

I can't say I entirely buy this. Seems to me, whenever the U.S. gets itself into a war, we get a run of cute, slightly titillating pseudo-military fashions. Somehow I doubt the folks who have wear the real thing in dangerous places think it is so cute.

What I like about this is the story of a consumer discovering something that offended her morals and taking action. The piece of this response I do believe is that marketing VPs take customer complaints seriously. Our democracy may seem on its last legs in part because too many of us have given up on active civic participation, but we are energetic consumers. We can let the companies we give our money to know what we care about. We can express ourselves as much as possible through our consumer choices.


sfmike said...

I don't entirely buy it either for all the reasons you offer. However, I LOVED the PR woman's response. To hell with the militaristic use of camouflage. Let's reclaim it for hunting and hanging out in forests and deserts since time began.

Jane R said...

Very good point.

The cute camo (and calling it camo - yech!) makes me want to throw up. And the camouflage explanation is completely lame. Of course animals camouflage, but this is MILITARY camouflage.

SF Mike has a point too, but that's not the message camouflage sends.

On that same fashion note, has anyone noticed the new Iraq-era camouflage colors? I've seen them on soldiers at airports. They're actually rather pretty and if there weren't a war involved I would find them quite attractive.

And the (mostly) men wearing them are so, so young. Makes me want to weep. They could be my children.

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