Kohl’s, a renowned retailer, has recently found itself in the crosshairs of public criticism and calls for a boycott due to its decision to sell LGBTQ+ themed apparel designed for infants. This controversy has ignited a fervor among consumers, exposing a broader societal divide over the issue of LGBTQ+ representation in the retail space.
This contentious situation arose when Kohl’s decided to stock onesies adorned with the LGBTQ+ pride flag in its department stores. This choice led to a wave of negative feedback from shoppers who believed that Kohl’s was pandering to those perceived as subscribing to the ‘Woke’ ideology – a term often used to denote a heightened awareness of social justice issues.
In the face of these reactions, Kohl’s has experienced a tumultuous start to the year, with its stock shares plummeting by nearly 50% in 2022 alone. This backlash mirrors that which was previously faced by other prominent brands such as Bud Light and Target, marking Kohl’s as the latest player in a string of corporations grappling with the complexities of modern consumer expectations.
A single Tweet succinctly encapsulated this public sentiment, “Looks like another company needing Bud-lighting!”. A testament to the pervasiveness of social media in shaping public discourse, this controversy initially erupted as users began sharing their disapproval of Kohl’s decision to sell LGBTQ+ onesies across various platforms.
The wave of criticism swelled further when the widely followed Twitter account ‘End Wokeness’ took Kohl’s to task for their infant apparel, asserting that the company hadn’t gleaned any lessons from the backlashes previously faced by Bud Light and Target.
It’s been going on for years. I see this stuff in every store I go to. Michael’s, JoAnn’s, Macy’s, cvs, kohl’s, target, everywhere. Except hobby lobby. Thankfully, they don’t carry that kind of merch.
— (F)ourth of (J)uly (B)irthday 😉 (#FJB) 🇺🇸 (@doubleAbdalla90) May 29, 2023
The debate found another platform on YouTube when user ‘Twisted Luck Truth’ posted a video expressing disapproval of Kohl’s in-store merchandise. The video was eventually removed from TikTok, adding another layer of complexity to the unfolding situation.
Among the products triggering debate was a t-shirt emblazoned with “BELONG BELIEVE BE PROUD” and featuring a silhouette of Mickey Mouse. Prominent conservative influencer Benny Johnson questioned the appropriateness of selling “Pride Merch” aimed at infants as young as three months old.
Yet, amidst the sea of criticism, voices rose in defense of Kohl’s. One liberal content creator urged the company to remain steadfast and maintain its Pride collection, arguing against the bigotry he felt was embedded within the criticism. The content creator was quoted saying, “Kohl’s, please stand your ground and keep your pride collection. I’m sick of gun-hungry bigots acting like not being straight is killing kids, when we all know what happens EVERY F***ING DAY IN THIS COUNTRY.”
This ongoing controversy forms part of a larger societal trend wherein numerous brands showing support for the LGBTQ+ community are facing boycott attempts. Critics often interpret these supportive actions as extensions of ‘Woke’ ideology, further polarizing public opinion. Notably, Bud Light experienced a substantial market value loss nearing $16 billion following backlash against its campaign featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.
Similarly, Target, another notable retailer, faced an intense public backlash against its Pride-themed children’s clothing line. Consequently, the company made the decision to withdraw some of the contentious items from its Pride collection. Despite this action, Target reiterated its ongoing commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ causes. However, this controversy culminated in a staggering $10 billion loss in Target’s market valuation.
As corporations like Kohl’s navigate the treacherous waters of modern consumer sentiment, the questions of representation, inclusivity, and societal responsibility continue to be hotly debated. What remains clear is that public opinion, often magnified and accelerated by social media, plays an increasingly significant role in determining the commercial success or failure of corporate strategies. With no clear resolution in sight, the journey for corporations like Kohl’s continues to be a challenging one.
One thing that Kohl’s, Bud Light, and Target have in common is that they have all taken firm stances on social issues, arguably in an attempt to reflect the diverse society in which they operate. However, the vehement reaction to these decisions suggests that these brands have misjudged a sizable portion of their audience, creating an incongruity between their values and those of their consumers.
Bearing in mind the backlash they’ve received, these companies now find themselves at a crossroads. They must decide whether to stand by their decisions and risk further losses, or backpedal in an attempt to appease their discontented consumers, possibly damaging their reputation for standing up for social causes.
The prevalence of social media has played a significant role in fanning the flames of these controversies. Platforms such as Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube have provided spaces for both critics and supporters to voice their opinions, driving the narrative on both ends. While these platforms can be valuable tools for brands to connect with their consumers, they can also serve as a double-edged sword, amplifying criticism just as much as support.
Meanwhile, it’s crucial to note that while Kohl’s, Bud Light, and Target have been subjected to a barrage of criticism, they also have their fair share of defenders. A liberal content creator, amongst others, has vociferously defended Kohl’s for promoting LGBTQ+ rights and has urged the company not to capitulate to the boycott.
These controversies have spotlighted the ideological divide in our society, with corporations caught in the middle. On one side are the advocates for greater diversity and representation who applaud the corporations’ efforts to reflect these values in their products. On the other side are those who feel alienated and accuse these corporations of pandering to the ‘Woke’ crowd.
These incidents serve as a potent reminder that corporations must strive to strike a balance. It’s not just about selling products; it’s about doing so while demonstrating a deep understanding of their diverse consumer base’s values, beliefs, and expectations.
Navigating these complexities requires corporations to listen to their consumers, exercise empathy, and promote inclusivity without compromising their core values. The challenge lies in promoting diversity and standing up for social causes without appearing to favor one demographic over another or exacerbating societal divisions.
Moving forward, it remains to be seen how Kohl’s and other corporations in similar predicaments will reconcile their commercial goals with their social responsibilities. One thing is clear, though: in an increasingly diverse society where the discourse around inclusivity and representation is evolving, corporations must adapt or risk losing touch with their consumers.
In conclusion, the repercussions of ‘Wokeness’ on corporate America are complex, multifaceted, and impactful. While it’s crucial for corporations to stand up for social justice and inclusivity, they must tread carefully to ensure they don’t alienate their customers. The case of Kohl’s is a testament to this fine line, demonstrating the need for corporations to continuously evaluate their strategies in a rapidly changing social landscape.