By Karlee Robinson
Feminist clothing company ModCloth was recently acquired by Jet, a company owned by Walmart. The multinational retailing superpower Walmart has a reputation for union busting, paying low wages and excusing sexist discrimination; their priorities and values couldn’t stray more from those of ModCloth. The objectives of these two businesses are so blatantly polar, their association can only be explained by capitalist manipulation.
ModCloth developed a reputation for selling plussized clothing and prompting other body-positive related discussion, as well as representing diverse models of color. Founder Susan Gregg Koger expressed her personal support for inclusivity and empowerment, along with her employees, publicizing their participation in the International Women’s Strike. Because of her staff ’s wide participation, Koger apologized for slower customer service and vocalized intersectional beliefs. In her apology, Koger disclosed ModCloth’s employment demographics (64 percent of their workforce is female) reflecting her company’s positive role in business.
“It has always been important to me that ModCloth supports women, too. That is part of why the ‘gender pay gap’ is a deeply personal issue for me,” Koger said.
Walmart, on the other hand, was recently criticized for their website’s section for “fat girl costumes” during the Halloween season. Even more concerning, this is easily one of Walmart’s most moderate offenses. In 2011, Walmart was confronted with what would have been one of the largest class action suits, after being sued on the basis of gender discrimination. The proposed class was 1.6 million women who were current or former Walmart employees.
Consumers are encountering difficulty in justifying this new partnership, but considering the track record of ModCloth’s current CEO (Matt Kaness, former Chief Strategy Officer for Urban Outfitters), their new relation to Walmart could have been long anticipated.
Urban Outfitters has a long-standing history of insensitive social commentary. Between their shampoo for “suicidal hair,” bloodstained Kent State sweatshirt and Holocaustrelated merchandise, Urban Outfitters is a controversial producer with questionable social integrity. Urban Outfitters similarly claims advocacy for feminist, inclusive agendas, but fails in practice.
I don’t mean to target ModCloth specifically, or criticise incongruencies between their word and practice, because I believe their situation is more accurately emblematic of “bad” capitalism and creeping monopolization of the clothing industry. ModCloth is not involved in a collaborative relationship with Walmart, but an acquisition. This acquisition is the result of financial insecurity on ModCloth’s end and profitable opportunity on Walmart’s, unfortunately, forcing ModCloth to compromise the significance of their products in order to stay economically afloat.
I remember a friend once saying, “Judgement isn’t bad, bad judgement is bad.” While the simplicity of this statement detracts from the legitimacy of its meaning, I find myself describing capitalism through similar terms. I do not believe capitalism is inherently evil; rather, the system provides potential for irresponsible use and both appeals to and accommodates lifestyles of excess.
An addiction to excess is dangerous in its ability to perpetuate itself. After establishing its basis (for example, a company achieving its first wave of economic success), capitalism excites the ego by producing money to make more money. The resulting trend: big companies often lose sight of the initial objectives behind their conception. Financial benefits manipulate sound ethics and lead big companies to compromise a healthy workforce hierarchy. This “healthy” hierarchy refers to the “pay it forward” dynamic that is pertinent in achieving a self-sustaining economy. Capitalism not only allows, but encourages, individuals at the top of workforce hierarchy to abuse their power and increase the distance between their level of benefits and those inferior to them.
Small businesses are continually pressured to “sell out” to capitalist superpowers. In this acquisition between ModCloth and Walmart, everyone benefits except the consumer. Producers benefit: ModCloth expands their customer base, while Walmart’s reputation improves (they are now associated with a company praised on every basis which Walmart has been shamed for). Consumers suffer because the ModCloth product is no longer genuine. Everyone’s best interest was in mind, except the customer’s, elucidating the nature of capitalist manipulation.
Where this acquisition harbors profitable benefits, again, the more ambiguous questions of ethics are under acknowledged. As seen in almost all larger socio-economic systems, their demand for generality makes their systems completely absent of personability, a difficult climate for small business to thrive. These larger ruling systems, like capitalism, are prioritizing quantity over quality. Systemic issues originate from a tendency to prioritize the number of entities their system can be applied to, not the effectiveness of their application.