L.L. Bean is facing a boycott from activists after Linda Bean, granddaughter of founder Leon Leonwood Bean and a member of the company’s board of directors, donated to a pro-Donald Trump political action committee.
It’s the latest brand to drift into a blizzard of political vitriol over a perceived stance on the Republican president-elect’s politics.
Linda Bean, who owns a chunk of the closely held maker of clothing and outdoor recreational goods, is a longtime political donor who twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican.
She contributed $60,000 to the Making America Great Again LLC, according to the Federal Election Commission. The agency said in a letter dated Jan. 4 that her contribution exceeded the individual donor limit of $5,000, according to the Associated Press.
After news of the donation emerged, anti-Trump group Grab Your Wallet called for a boycott of L.L. Bean’s products. Founded last October, Grab Your Wallet publishes a list of companies and individuals who support Trump and urges consumers to punish them by withholding their cash.
Freeport, Maine-based L.L. Bean was quick to respond to its appearance on the list, posting a 325-word statement on its Facebook page. In it, Executive Chairman Shawn Gorman wrote that the company has more than 50 family members who are owners, and that no one person speaks for the clothier. He said he was “deeply troubled” that L.L. Bean was being portrayed as a partisan entity.
“L.L. Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions,” said Gorman. “Simply put, we stay out of politics. To be included in this boycott campaign is simply misguided, and we respectfully request that Grab Your Wallet reverse its position.”
His post has racked up more than 4,500 comments in less than a day. Reactions range from outraged shoppers to stalwart defenders of the staid New England brand. When reached on Monday, a spokesman for L.L. Bean said it is “both illogical and unfair” to link the personal politics of one family member to the company’s five generations of owners.
Shannon Coulter, a co-founder of Grab Your Wallet, said L.L. Bean should rethink whether it should remain affiliated with Linda Bean due to connections with such “highly divisive” political figures as Trump. Many participants in her movement, she says, hope the company takes some time to assess the board member’s role.
“It would be naive for any brand to believe that in this day and age, a board member can participate in these kinds of activities and not think it’ll affect the bottom line in any way,” said Coulter.
There’s been lots of blowback experienced by brands that waded into the recent political maelstrom. Trump supporters protested against Starbucks Corp. after its chief executive officer supported Hillary Clinton, and they took off after Kellogg Co. when it pulled advertising from the ultra-right website Breitbart News. The president-elect himself called for a boycott of Macy’s Inc. after the department store dumped his clothing line.
Anti-Trump activists meanwhile pressed for boycotts of retailers that sell daughter Ivanka Trump’s fashion line including Macy’s. And New Balance was burned by furious customers (literally, in some online videos) after a spokesperson for the shoemaker criticized the Obama administration while coming out in support of Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. (Clinton also opposed the pact.)
Consumers have found more creative ways to battle brands of late. One activist group called Sleeping Giants is trying to change online advertising by informing companies when their advertisements pop up on hate sites filled with false news and white supremacist or neo-Nazi content. So far, Sleeping Giants has contacted more than 1,000 companies with screenshots of their brands alongside hate speech, including Chase and Audi, according to the New York Times.
“People are just searching for a way to fight back, a way to make a difference,” said Dorothy Crenshaw, founder of public relations firm Crenshaw Communications. As she sees it, L.L. Bean handled its situation appropriately by using a calm tone and sticking to the facts without getting too emotional.
With a wide swath of the consumer public riled up before Trump’s inauguration, companies need to be more aware than ever about managing their reputation, said Crenshaw. That means thinking hard about what values they want to stand for and whether those ideals align with their core customers. Politics is a real part of the business environment, she said, and it must be dealt with delicately, not totally ignored.
“You can’t put your head in a hole, shrink back, and avoid the entire dialogue,” said Crenshaw.