Lilly Pulitzer’s fat-shaming crisis highlights role of individual employees in brand imaging
Women’s clothing line Lilly Pulitzer found itself in a sticky situation after being the subject of an article published in New York Magazine. The article’s original intent was to give readers a look into the fashion line’s headquarters, but instead was criticized for a harsh display of fat-shaming.
The article is a slideshow format of photos from throughout their headquarters. One image was of cartoons posted on the wall that have been labeled as fat-shaming. The photo shows both cartoons hanging beside a bikini top, surrounded by an assortment of colorful photos, and a sign reading, “I’m just saying.” Both cartoons are of curvy women accompanied by snarky comments. One cartoon read: “Just another day of fat, white and hideous…You should probably just kill yourself.” The other cartoon read: “Put it down, carb face.”
As can be expected, people across the internet responded to the photo with outrage, condemning the brand for perpetuating such negative ideas about women’s weight and figures. Just a few months ago, the line was under fire for similar reasons because it decided not to offer plus sizes for its Target collection in stores.
Amid backlash, Lilly Pulitzer’s Vice President of Creative Communications, Jane Schoenborn, came forward to address concerns. In her statement, she reiterated the fact that the illustrations in question were the work of a single employee and were displayed within her own personal workspace.
“While we are an employer that does encourage people to decorate their own space, we are a female-dominated company, and these images do not reflect our values. We apologize for any harm this may have caused.”
While Schoenborn rightly offered an apology on behalf of the brand for the offensive cartoons, she also took the opportunity to reinforce that the captions do not reflect the values of the brand at large. This crisis highlights that an employee’s action carries a great amount of weight regarding brand image. Employees represent the companies and brands for which they work. As such, it is important that they reflect the values and ideas promoted by the brand, both in their professional and personal choices.
It is not realistic or fair for a company to control the personal choices made by its employees. It is, however, essential to recognize that the preservation of brand image is more than the company always putting its best foot forward. It comes down to trying to make sure that employees are as well.
Do you think Lilly Pulitzer has a responsibility, as a brand, to ensure that employees’ workspaces accurately represent the values and principles of the brand at large? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi.