Modcloth – Oh Lost! (I’m reading Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, and this phrase captures my mood sublimely).
But seriously, WTF Modcloth? I’ve been writing about the Modcloth brand for years. I’ve held them up as the paragon of a brand that does EVERYTHING RIGHT:
- Product-market fit
- Understanding their customers on levels so deep, it’s kinship
- Branding-marketing-customer fit
- Creating a sense of inspiring sisterhood through their brand
I mean. Of every company I’ve observed over the past three decades, not one has nailed their customers’ wants, aspirations and pain points like Modcloth. Not one has fostered a community of women – intelligent, stylish, successful women – like Modcloth. Not one has done so much for body-positivism and inclusiveness as Modcloth.
No brand made me feel like I’d found a friend, someone I could trust, believe in, and support, like Modcloth. I count myself among its most enthusiastic evangelists.
It is an intensely powerful brand.
Over the weekend, I heard the announcement that Modcloth was selling itself to Walmart.
Fifty years from now, I predict that this move will go down in the annals of marketing history as the stupidest brand decision since trying to sell Chevy Novas (Nova means “no go” in Spanish) in Mexico. Here’s why:
Modcloth has stood for supporting smaller indie clothing makers and offering quirky, delightful, retro clothes at all price points. They’ve stood for women’s issues, and LGBT issues – they don’t even sell leather products. Their brand and their values are intrinsically linked. They’ve done such a phenomenal job of blending brand and values, in fact, that their customer base almost uniformely shares those values.
And then there’s Walmart.
Walmart has built itself by frankly m’dear not giving a damn about where its products come from, how craptastically they’re made, or in which sweatshops. It’s been well documented that Walmart isn’t choosy about its foreign labor, is anti-union, underpays women, neglects pregnant workers, and really doesn’t give a rat’s fine ass about animal cruelty.
Listen, I’ve shopped at Walmart before, and I probably will again (though I can’t for the life of me envision why). Whether it’s an evil company or just a crummy one isn’t my issue (it’s other peoples’ issue, and I’ll stand by and applaud while they take it up!). My issue is that this goes against everything the Modcloth brand stands for. It goes against everything their carefully cultivated following cares about, too.
“Modcloth has sold to Walmart – and its customers are pissed” sums up the reaction nicely.
But this post, by cute-as-a-button fashion blogger Tabitha Blankenbiller, gets to the heart of why this sale – in particular – was so gut-wrenching for so many (and it speaks to how powerful – emotionally powerful – Modcloth is):
On the drive back to our house, a couple hundred dollars sunk into the company, I was close to tears. Never had a store made me feel so normal. So wanted. How many times had I gone out shopping, ready to drop some cash, and found that the entire mall only had one or two choices in my obscene size to choose from? Hundreds. My entire life.
It’s an experience like this that makes me say, I am with you forever. You aren’t my company. You are my friend.
This passage, when Tabitha visits a Modcloth store pop-up, is particularly poignant. She wears a larger size, as I do, and Modcloth is one of the precious few companies that place an emphasis on selling for all sizes (and employing models of all sizes).
I think Tabitha’s post should be required reading for copywriters, marketers and brand strategists. It shows how a clothing brand can be so much more than an online store. It shows how Modcloth became part of our lives, part of our successes, a balm to our griefs.
I can’t even read it without getting verklempt.