On January 19, right-wing musician and social media personality Adam Calhoun announced he was parting ways with his beloved Carhartt gear.

In a video posted to YouTube, the American singer behind minor country hit ‘Salute the Brave’ pulls out a cherished Carhartt hat and shirt jacket he ‘used to weld’, and looks fogged up when he’s holding an old pair of Carhartt double knees – “my favorite pair of pants I’ve ever owned”.

He then proceeds to carry the clothes outside and douse them with gasoline, using a blowtorch to set them on fire and urging his 1.2 million followers to do the same. “Proud, hard-working Americans wear these clothes,” he told the camera. “And you turn around for those squishy liberals.”

Calhoun’s video is part of a flurry of anti-Carhartt sentiment that erupted in response to the company’s Jan. 14 announcement that all employees would be required to receive Covid-19 vaccines. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has blocked President Biden’s vaccination or testing mandate for large corporations, the company said in a press release that its decision was “part of our long-standing commitment to occupational safety”.

Covid vaccinations have become a flashpoint in American politics, with many on the right arguing against government and corporate sponsored mandates. Widely shared videos of Carhartt anti-vax customers disfiguring and burning their beloved clothes are another bizarre example of America’s culture wars going on across fashion.

Product boycotts aren’t new, but in the age of social media, and especially since 2016, videos of customers destroying their own stuff to protest a brand’s marketing or corporate policies have become a fixture. regular cycle of outrage – on both sides of politics. spectrum.

In 2016, people filmed themselves throwing their New Balance sneakers in the trash after the company’s vice president of public affairs made favorable remarks to The Wall Street Journal about President Trump’s protectionist trade policies. And in 2018, customers recorded themselves burning their sneakers after Nike ran an ad for activist quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

While many consumer goods have been the subject of consumer fury – from Keurig coffee machines at Kellogg’s cereals — fashion and apparel are particularly popular targets of destruction because customers identify so closely with clothing brands. “What you put on your body is such a reflection of yourself and what you stand for,” says Emily Huggard, assistant professor of fashion communication at Parsons School of Design in New York. “Fashion brands allow people to feel connected to their city, their community, their culture.”

Not surprisingly, when a brand that has been in your life goes against these supposedly shared values, consumers can feel betrayed. Social media is the easiest way to express those feelings and grab a brand’s attention, especially with what Huggard calls the “visual impact” of a bonfire of branded merchandise.

Businesses are right to be concerned – online protests can do more than alienate customers. In a 2017 article published in the Journal of Business Ethics, researchers used a combination of econometric analysis and online protest simulations to measure the effects of social media dust on the company’s share price. , and found that the shares were trading nearly 1% lower than expected. within five days of a protest. But they can also sometimes pay off – after an initial drop, Nike shares rose 4% in a week after the release of its Kaepernick ad.

In the aftermath of a consumer-led protest, says DJ Langley, co-author of the paper and professor at the University of Groningen, companies have three options. They can engage with the protesters, repudiate the attacks and redouble their efforts, or ignore them and hope everything falls apart. Contrary to the advice of some PR professionals, the study determined that engaging with online protesters was the best way to control damage, while silence only made matters worse. Still, Langley calls the road to repairing customer relationships “complicated” and “difficult.”

Burning clothes is by no means a Western phenomenon, although the provocations are often different. When, in 2018, Dolce & Gabbana released a series of videos showing a Chinese model struggling to eat pizza and other Italian dishes with chopsticks, protesting it became a matter of national pride. Writer and director Xiang Kai, who posted photos of his Dolce clothes on fire, told the New York Times that “the purpose of burning my clothes is to wake up the Chinese people and the Chinese nation. Some people say you wasted a lot of money. I am ready to waste this money for the dignity of the nation.

In the United States, the response tends to be divided. “Almost no matter what [brands] do,” says Langley, “they’re going to alienate about half of their customers. Some Carhartt customers might buy an extra beanie in solidarity with the company, but the majority who agree with its vaccine mandate are unlikely to change their buying habits, or even express their support on the networks. social, especially compared to the number of people angrily calling for a boycott.

There is good news for companies like Carhartt. Absent a prolonged campaign, Langley’s team found that intense online protests “are not enough to have a long-lasting effect” on the company’s share price or behavior. The weekend he released his announcement, Nike sales jumped 31% year over year; New Balance executives stopped making pro-Trump claims and started making surprisingly hip dad shoes again. The Boston-based shoe company even managed to lure one of the hottest names in menswear, Teddy Santis, to serve as the creative director of its “Made in USA” line.

It seems memories for even the most angry online protester are pretty short. Contacted about a viral image of New Balances in a trash can from 2016, graduate student Jared Greenberg could only vaguely remember the circumstances that led him to throw his shoes in the trash. It had been six years since he had posted the photo, and his passions had cooled. “I stopped wearing New Balances for a while,” says Greenberg, “but I would buy them again now.”

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