It’s sod’s law. You spend half a century building a flawless eco-friendly brand, revered by hypebeasts, vintage collectors and venture capitalists alike. You stay true to a design philosophy that turns dusty old fleeces into grail pieces. You choose to contribute millions of dollars in profit to climate change causes. Then Ted Cruz squeezes into one of your pullovers for a ten-hour round-trip to Cancún and, lo, you become the unofficial sponsor of history’s most pathetic holiday. Bad luck, guys.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Texas senator, a truly peculiar man who just can’t kick his addiction to public humiliation. For those that don’t know the background: a historic winter storm that started over the weekend has plunged Cruz’s state into chaos, overwhelming the independent energy grid and bursting water pipes. Gasoline supplies are dwindling and carbon monoxide poisonings are rising. But on Wednesday, while Texas suffered sub-zero temperatures and a spate of related deaths, Cruz was snapped boarding a flight to a sunny tourist resort in Cancún, Mexico.
Needless to say, it didn't go down well. In the midst of a bipartisan fury, Cruz flew back the next day and released a statement which laid much of the blame on his teenage daughters (“Our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew with them last night”). His already shoddy excuse was somewhat undermined by a bulging suitcase and a leaked text conversation from his wife, inviting friends to a week-long Mexican getaway.
As if the widely shared airport photos weren’t galling enough for Patagonia, Cruz decided to wear the brand again for his public not-quite-apology, soundtracked by protestors goading him to resign.
A climate change-denying politician wearing an ardently eco-friendly brand to flee the impact of climate change in his own state, all the while pumping pointless CO2 into the atmosphere at record speed; it’s all very stupid, isn’t it? And to Patagonia’s credit, they didn’t hit the panic button. The brand simply reasserted their activist credentials and offered to buy his fleece back as part their Worn Wear project, delivering a subtle one-size-too-small jibe in the process.
Thanks, @tedcruz, for supporting our mission to Save our Home Planet by choosing a Snap-T made out of 100% post-consumer recycled bottles while also giving 1% for the planet with your purchase.
If you decide it isn’t the right fit for you we’d be happy to buy it back @wornwear.
— Patagonia (@patagonia) February 18, 2021
They probably derived some satisfaction from the possibility that the Texas senator – who supported Donald Trump to the hilt, in spite of the former president’s outspoken disdain for his wife’s face – was wearing one of the brand’s hidden ‘VOTE THE ASSHOLES OUT’ labels.
Brands live in fear of being co-opted by controversial figures and movements on the American political fringes, and for good reason. At the end of 2020, Fred Perry decided to discontinue its classic black and yellow polo in the US after the design was chosen as a de facto uniform by the far-right Proud Boys. Four years earlier, New Balance denounced “bigotry and hate” after The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi site, referred to them as “The Official Shoes of White People”. The possibility of becoming a symbol of hate, and a totem of Bad Men-swear, is nothing new – but reputations fester much faster in the heavily image-driven age of social media, and it’s easier than ever to lose control of what your brand represents.
The truth is, Patagonia’s political imperviousness has been slowly earned through a long history of charity and activism. A Twitter clapback, however witty, can only do so much; the best way for brands to distance themselves from hate and disinformation will always be to actively work against it. As Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard once put it, “Evil doesn’t have to be an overt act; it can be merely the absence of good.” And no one lacks 'good' quite like Ted Cruz.
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