As the nation remembered the lives of those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces on Memorial Day, May 25, national sportswear giant PacSun found itself only halfway apologizing in the least substantive manner for selling, advertising, and displaying a t-shirt that they called a “licensed flag t-shirt.” The navy t-shirt with the U.S. flag flying upside down has literally flown in the faces of those who are well aware that the flag should “never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property,” according to article 4a of section 8 of the U.S. Flag Code.
Elementary school children are taught that the flag should never touch the ground, as one of the first life lessons they receive; by the time they’re in history classes, students know how the various USA flags came to be over the years, including the caveat about never flying the flag upside down. And yet here comes PacSun with its navy shirt and the upside down flag, just in time for sales during the Memorial Day weekend.
The shirts were displayed for sale prominently in the store and on the retailer’s web site, until patriotic consumers got wind of what was sailing over in the Orange County, California, headquarters. One shopper snapped a picture with her camera phone, it went viral immediately, and PacSun got a substantive chastising across social media that’s already into its second day.
Sample Facebook posts on PacSun’s corporate page include suggestions of boycotting the store immediately; and promises by outraged former customers to never shop there again. Just 17 hours ago, still on Memorial Day, PacSun wrote:
As a retailer grounded in youth culture, PacSun values artistic and creative expression through the brands that we sell in our stores. Out of respect for those who have put their lives on the line for our country, we have decided to stop selling the licensed flag t-shirt and are removing it from our stores and website immediately. We thank the men and women in uniform for their extraordinary service.”
Too little, too late in the minds of many. Had PacSun been thinking, they never would have offered the shirt for sale, much less paid money (to whom, one wonders) to license the shirt. Then, they would have thought better of prominently displaying it in stores such that consumers could snap one photo and have it go viral in a matter of minutes.
Ironically, PacSun’s mission statement notes:
PacSun is dedicated to embracing the amazing diversity and unique sense of adventure that California offers at every turn based on this vast, yet attainable state…With over 600 stores across the country, we strive to embrace and deliver all aspects of the California lifestyle to our customers, leaving the possibilities limitless. We are PacSun and we are you.”
Well, not so much, PacSun.
Not only did the corporate retailer not really apologize for selling it in the first place; they merely said they decided to stop selling it. Thanking the “men and women in uniform for their extraordinary service” is ineffectual. They don’t seem to understand that Memorial Day is specifically geared to remember those men and women whose service to the United States cost them, and their families, their lives. To veterans who served this country, they too, grieve at the loss of lives of their brothers and sisters in arms who didn’t make it back. It’s not just an occasion a 3-day weekend for a picnic, some barbeque, some watermelon and, say, a new t-shirt.
A real apology could have been “We deeply and sincerely apologize for this offensive and disrespectful business action, and to show how wrong we were we are donating $1,000,000 to a California-based Veterans organization.” But simply not selling the t-shirt any more without a real apology is the difference between how well Johnson & Johnson handled the Tylenol tragedy compared to the bungling by Exxon after the Valdez incident. Someone at PacSun had better call crisis manager Judy Smith, because this talented executive is about the only person who can bail these bozos out of trouble.
If they’re smart enough to hire her, Smith will have her hands full, though, as just two hours ago, PacSun posted on their Facebook page “Join us at 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica for a chance to meet Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner this Saturday at 11 am. Share this if we’ll see you there.”
PacSun’s answer to their poor judgment is the Kardashian/Jenner family? Wait, what? As Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha Stephens character would often say in “Bewitched,” “Oh my stars!” As thousands of people are commenting on that incredulously vapid concept, PacSun should be giving away hundred-thousands of dollars to Veterans organizations and perhaps a free patriotic t-shirt (new design) to everyone who comes into their stores for a week. You must admit your mistakes in public to gain back public trust. Right now, it’s just a drive-thru line to order up a cup of contempt and a Kardashian to go, courtesy of the Ryan Seacrest business empire. And still no real apology, nor any real sign of remorse from PacSun. The public will have the ultimate voice when it comes to how PacSun is viewed as a fashion trendsetter in the very near future.
And, if you want patriotic sportswear for the summer, your best bet is likely Old Navy.