The XX Factor

Liberals, Don’t Let Donald Trump Tarnish L.L. Bean’s Sterling Brand Reputation

A spread from L.L. Bean’s winter catalog.

L.L. Bean

This week in Donald Trump tweets with a long backstory: Thursday morning, the president-elect wrote on Twitter, “Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean.” He then tagged the Twitter handle for Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine, a vacation rental and tourism company owned by the L.L. Bean heiress and board member.

To the blissfully uninformed, this tweet raises so many questions. Why was Trump tweeting in defense of a Maine-based outdoor apparel company? Did he mean to tag Linda Bean’s tourism company instead of, well, the company he was tweeting about? And shouldn’t there be a space between “L.L.” and “Bean”? (According to AP style, there should, but L.L. Bean inexplicably stylizes its name without the space.)

Here’s the deal: Linda Lorraine Bean is the granddaughter and pseudo-namesake of L.L. Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean. She owns a stake in L.L. Bean, along with 50-odd other Bean descendents, and is a member of the company’s 10-person board of directors. She is also a longtime donor to Republican candidates and causes, and she even ran on the Republican ticket for Congress back in 1992. Her political inclinations are no secret, but news emerged last week that she may have broken federal campaign finance law by donating $60,000 to a pro-Trump PAC that was supposed to limit individual donations to $5,000. In response, an activist group called Grab Your Wallet, which is devoted to organizing boycotts of companies that enrich the Trump family, called for liberals to give their duck-boot dollars to a different company. In response to the boycott, Trump tweeted in support of L.L. Bean, and now his supporters are ostensibly buying products from L.L. Bean as a political statement.

If you look solely at the warring anti-Trump #GrabYourWallet and pro-Trump #GrabYourOrders contingents on Twitter, you would conclude that there are only two sides to this issue. If you shop at L.L. Bean, it must mean that you want to ban Muslims and a build a wall. If you are troubled by Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, you are obligated to return all your L.L. Bean purchases and never shop there again. It’s like the Montagues and the Capulets, if the Montagues and the Capulets wore comfortable, long-lasting flannels, fleeces, and hiking boots.

As it happens, L.L. Bean would rather not serve as a political football for hashtag activists. “Like most large families, the more than 50 family member-owners of the business hold views and embrace causes across the political spectrum, just as our employees and customers do,” wrote executive chairman (and Bean family member) Shawn Gorman in a Facebook message responding to the Grab Your Wallet boycott. “L.L.Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions. Simply put, we stay out of politics.”

With the caveat that people are allowed to buy or not buy products for any reason they wish, I’m inclined to agree with Gorman that the boycott is misguided. Linda Bean’s views seem noxious, but once you start boycotting companies with Trump supporters on their boards of directors, you’ll quickly find that there’s nowhere left to shop.

What’s more, L.L. Bean is one of those companies with a sterling brand reputation that seems well-deserved. It is one of the largest employers in Maine, even manufacturing several products there, and it takes a deeper interest in labor rights than most apparel companies. It has donated millions of dollars to conservationist and educational causes, as Bangor Daily News columnist David Farmer points out. Plus, its products continue to be great. Have you ever worn a boot, slipper, or backpack from L.L. Bean? If so, you know that they’re made to last. And if they don’t, L.L. Bean has an insane customer satisfaction policy that allows you to return or exchange disappointing items at literally any time. All in all, L.L. Bean seems like one of the better American companies, and disavowing it because of one board member’s political views seems shortsighted.

Plus, are liberals really going to cede the L.L. Bean aesthetic to conservatives? As it stands, flannel and chunky boots are one of the few style choices that unite Americans from both sides of the aisle. The widespread popularity of New England casualwear has made it difficult to tell the difference between a Brooklyn sophisticate and an actual lumberjack. It would be a grave error to allow conservatives to turn plaids and duck boots into symbols of fascism—what would we non-fascists wear on days when we want to feel both cozy and rugged then?

Trump seems intent on holding up individual brands, and people, as either heroes or traitors, but the rest of us don’t have to play his game. Just because Trump says something is good does not automatically mean it is bad. And just because someone affiliated with a company supports Trump does not mean that company deserves to be boycotted.