My boyfriend is hard to buy gifts for. Not because he “has everything”–in fact, it’s just the opposite. He makes an effort to shop ethically, which, mostly means not supporting brands that use sweatshop labor. For the first year or so of our relationship this meant he mostly shopped at second-hand stores or bought things made in America. That’s not easy these days. But over the past few years a handful of brands have made their way onto his “approved” list, and–for whatever reason–they are mostly outdoorsy brands, like Patagonia, that have a commitment to the environment and the workers in their factories.
L.L.Bean is one of those brands. There’s a store not far from my home, and at first, he was skeptical. He knew the company makes their Bean boots in Maine, but couldn’t quite wrap his mind around how the company keeps prices reasonable without exploitative labor practices. Then he had the chance to ask an actual employee, who explained that because Bean doesn’t sell merchandise through third parties and goes direct to consumers it can keep its prices down. Meanwhile, it stays committed to making some of its most popular products in the U.S.
So when all hell broke loose this week after Linda Bean–one of 50 family members/owners, and one of 10 people on the company’s board–found herself in the news, my heart sank. I was already familiar with Linda Bean (as are many Mainers). She’s kind of the black sheep of the Bean family, and is known for irking the rest of the family when she decides to get political. This time, she really got herself–and the company–into hot water when it was discovered she’d donated a lot of money to Trump PAC (which turned out to be illegal) and then Trump made it worse by Tweeting his support of the company. Boycotters were ready to jump at the chance to make the entire company pay for what amounts to the crazy aunt they can’t control.
L.L.Bean’s official stance is that the company does not endorse any political candidates. Considering the company’s commitment to the environment, I’m guessing the unofficial stance is pretty anti-Trump (who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax). Meanwhile, they’re still stuck with Linda on the board, and many people are up in arms about it. I have no idea how easy it would be to oust her from the board, but it’s a privately held company that is basically still family-owned. I don’t think she’ll be going anywhere–unless of course the illegal PAC donation winds her up in jail. (If you really want to hurt Linda Bean, boycott her restaurant–picket it if you’re local.)
I won’t be boycotting L.L.Bean, which is my go-to store at the moment. When I needed a new pair of jeans, I went there. When I needed a new mat for the back door, I went there (it’s guaranteed for life and I can take it outside and hose it down when it gets dirty). So, here are 5 reasons I’m going to keep shopping at L.L.Bean:
- They treat their workers well. All you have to do is stop by a store and meet one of the knowledgeable, pleasant staff to know they are treated well. The company employs over 5,000 Mainers, and considers them all “stakeholders” and has a room full of outdoor equipment the employees can use.
- The environment matters to them. The stores are built with energy efficiency in mind, the company claims it recycles more than 83% of its waste, and supports the Appalachian Trail and Acadia National Park. I appreciate that!
- I reject fast fashion & so do they! I find the entire idea of cheap, disposable clothing made at the expense of factory workers across the globe very distressing. Wastefulness disturbs me to my core. I can’t always avoid it, but stores like L.L.Bean that make quality items, built to last make it a lot easier.
- They put people before profits. A couple of years ago I needed new winter boots, and wanted to get some Bean boots. Unfortunately, the boots were back ordered until March (when I would no longer need them). This is common. The factory in Maine can’t keep up with demand. A lot of brands would outsource the work to keep up with demand, but Bean puts the factory workers and the quality of the product ahead of profits.
- That return policy! You can return anything, at any time, for any reason. Insane! I have a pair of Wicked Comfy Slippers that I received two years ago for Christmas. I work from home so I wear them more than any slipper was ever meant to be worn. Holes are starting to form. I’m thinking about returning them for new ones. It seems unfair to the company that these slippers I wear almost all day, every day from October to May can be returned.
L.L.Bean is exactly the kind of company we should be supporting. Instead of paying lip service to fair labor practices and American jobs, then going to shop at Walmart or Forever 21 to find the cheapest goods possible, take your dollars to retailers that sell high-quality goods and make a commitment to their workers here and abroad. Do your homework before you decide to boycott this or any other company. And maybe start doing some homework before buying from companies with sketchy labor practices and abysmal environmental records.