Over the weekend, a shopper at an outlet mall in Alabama noticed the above t-shirt displayed in the window of a PacSun store. Given that it was Memorial Day weekend, the store’s decision to display and sell an item with an upside down American flag (an image meant to indicate extreme distress or danger to life and property) did not sit well with her.
She took a photo and posted it on Facebook, writing:
“I understand freedom of speech but this shirt, displayed prominently at the entrance of your store, for Memorial Day weekend is more distasteful and disrespectful than anything I thought I’d see. I will not be shopping at PacSun again.”
The image was then shared countless times as users flooded Pacific Sunwear’s Facebook page with complaints; a predictable back-and-forth ensued pitting those who found the shirt offensive/un-American against others quick to defend freedom of speech, self expression, and the free market.
And, as happens virtually every time a retailer ends up in hot water because some find a clothing item offensive (take Urban Outfitters when they outraged customers this time, this time, and that other time), the company took three steps:
- They issued a formal apology
- They announced plans to pull the product from shelves
- They managed to mention that the item in question was “licensed” to be sold in its stores (meaning it was manufactured by a third party, so no one at PacSun can be blamed for creating or choosing this particular design)
From a statement on the PacSun Facebook page on Monday:
“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.”
With all three obligatory boxes checked, we imagine this story–like other fashion faux pas before it–will blow over quickly.