Nov 2, 2012





Stranded by Sandy?

We know the feeling. We’re stranded too and moved our downtown operations to the Peninsula Hotel Banquet Room. 

In need of a fresh batch of essentials?

We’re offering 24 hour service and same day delivery in the Manhattan area.

Sandy was a natural DISASTER and has caused a state of EMERGENCY. GET ALL THE WAY THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, SUITSUPPLY. I challenge you to shut your temporary doors and used the money you would have to keep them open and go out and help the community and those in need.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I don’t work for Suitsupply anymore.

Noah has sparked an interesting conversation on the roll that retail (the front line of fashion) plays in disaster recovery. How should a retailer react to a local natural disaster? I think, at the end of the day, the best response is to do what you can to return to normalcy without making light of the situation for monetary gain. It’s awesome to offer pro-bono assistance or monetary aid, but not every company has the infrastructure to do that. This isn’t Kenneth Cole making light of the Egyptian revolution and this sure as hell isn’t American Apparel’s “Sandy Sale” that was obviously in poor taste. Let’s look at what is actually happening:

A purveyor of affordable tailored clothes is opening a temporary shop stocked with business essentials and offering expedited alterations. 

While a suit isn’t on the mind of everyone that was affected by Sandy for sure, for the lawyer that evacuated on Sunday whose wardrobe is water logged and needs a suit for the trial on Monday (because his firm is trying to return to normalcy) this is helpful. This is a way that Suitsupply can use what it does on a day to day basis to help it’s customer. It’s no corporate Mother Teresa by any stretch, but it’s certainly not exploitive.

Bear in mind that Suitsupply core customer isn’t the 19-25 year old that reads blogs and wants to look good so he wears sport coats and dub monks to his final or business casual work environment. If you work in finance, politics, law, or any number of other professions that generally require business professional attire a suit is an essential. I suppose the wording could have been different, but how is it much different than your favorite cafe saying “We’re still here!” in spite of the disaster. Remember, this is their only store in NY. 

It’s also a small step towards returning to normalcy from the employees’ standpoint. Let’s say they take Noah’s challenge, close the doors, and donate estimated sales to The Red Cross. What are they going to do about the loss of pay for their commission based employees? Here’s some math: think about one of your paychecks in a month (if you get paid by monthly), now trim that down by about 30%. That’s the loss in pay you’re looking at for shutting down shop for a week.

Probably not going to change anyone that was “outraged” by “The Situation Room“‘s mind, but just thought I would share some thoughts and see what people think. Unis made no promises of donating a portion of their online sales that are continuing in spite of Sandy. Uniqlo suspended online sales, but it’s not on some “moment of silence” stuff. And neither one of them needs to. I just think its a bit much to demonize a corporation for not responding to a situation the way you would have when they didn’t do anything objectively wrong.

What are you’re thoughts?

CJB makes some interesting points: 1) The ambiguity of how retailers should act in the wake of a natural disaster and 2) The effect on employee’s wages from a closed store.

Each will be taken in order.

1. The moral action (the right action) is to help thy fellow man. While offering quick tailoring services to get people back to normalcy is an eleemosynary act onto itself, it is below other essential services which could have been provided. People don’t need suits, they need heating, food, and shelter; I refer you Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Moreover, the service SuitSupply performs is looked upon, by many people, as a luxury service. Therefore, instead of looking charitable, the act is instead looked upon as disaster profiteering.

(For more on the exploitation of disaster zones, read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein). 

Further more, this is only available to those who can afford it - either before or after the storm - and are so able to return to a normal life. Considering, the current ‘1%’ dialogue occurring all over the US this seems like a crass move on SuitSupply’s part.

Corporations command far more capital than most individuals, and with the laws currently bestowing these companies with many of the same rights as people, the obligation becomes not to provide the service they are known for, but to use their resources to extend as much good to the most people. Holding a Situation Room in the Peninsula Hotel, did not do this. Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception of SuitSupply was that it had the ability to contribute in a meaningful way to the relief effort, but instead tried to take advantage of those in need. 

So, a company’s ambiguity stemming from a natural disaster can be assuaged by following an easy rule, “Just do good.”

2. A company as large as SuitSupply has insurance. If it does not, someone was not planning the business correctly.

Yes, 30% off an individual’s monthly paycheque is a lot, but not compared with monthly profits from SuitSupply. The use of company money to compensate employees for lost wages would allow them to return to work worry free once things get back to normalcy. 

So, I don’t believe the lost wages argument holds water.

Finally, I would argue if you’re worried about looking good at the office two days after the largest storm to hit the East Coast, ever, your priorities are not in line. Old canned food and hand-me-down clothes are only one part of the equation for cleaning up. Money will do the bulk to the repairing, and that is what is most needed.

I’ve hit on a lot of points with this post, with a lot of ideas that have only been partially fleshed out. I would highly suggest the book I linked to above by Naomi Klein. It does a good job of articulating how economics plays into disasters, both natural and man made.

Finally, give what you can, because it will all help.

At least, more than buying a three piece suit will. 

I stand my ground on this. Above is a pretty parallel view to mine in response to CB’s response to me. I have said that I see no wrong in moving location to maintain business services to customers who have the ability to continue consumption, but…

The imagery, copy and branding all seem incredibly insensitive to any who was actually affected by the storm. A strong, shiny dude in a nice suit waving an American flag around over NY after a crippling disaster to drive people to your store and spend money is not exactly a very supportive or context conscious message to be sending. Saying things like, “We know the feeling, we are stranded too” could be seen and perceived as extremely patronizing to those who have actually had their entire lives displaced completely and indefinitely. Take the estimated 110 homes that burned to the earth in Breezy Points, Queens. Oh but look, it’s okay, unlike you guys we have the money to take up residents in a fancy hotel and continue making money. Even the name, The Situation Room, is incredibly presumptuous in that it creates an internal assumption that what you are doing is a beneficial, necessary reaction to the disaster. As my friend Andrew said on twitter earlier, “What exactly do you mean by essentials at your “Situation Room”? Bottled water, food, showers, & phone charging stations?”. Sorry, but at the end of the day it is about the bottom line. That is a legally truth for any company at the end of the day. I do not find fault in trying to maintain operations for your customers, but closing with a cheesy grievance line after puffing out your chest and waving your checkbook it’s hardly any real showing of any sincere grief or anguish for your fellow humans. At the end of the day showing true compassion and companionship separates the good from the great. No, there is nothing wrong with keeping the doors to your business open, but look around you, look at what others are doing for their fellow humans.