L.L. Bean doesn’t sell flak jackets, but the Maine-based purveyor of just about every other kind of outdoor gear might need a few after finding itself caught in the middle of a political skirmish over its namesake heiress and her support of President-elect Donald Trump.
Some customers vowed to boycott the family-owned company after learning last week that Linda Bean, the granddaughter and heir of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean and a longtime Republican activist, bankrolled a political action committee in her efforts to support Trump.
That led L.L. Bean’s board chairman, Shawn Gorman, a great-grandson of L.L. Bean, to do something unusual for the company: address a political controversy head-on.
“We are deeply troubled by the portrayal of L.L. Bean as a supporter of any political agenda,” Gorman said in an open letter posted late Sunday night on Facebook.
A spokeswoman for the Freeport-based company went a step further Monday, with a reminder that the five-generation company has a sprawling family tree.
“As with most families of this size, the views of L.L.’s family members cover nearly the entire political spectrum. And as every member of this very large family would agree, no single person represents the values of the company that L.L. built,” Carolyn Beem said. “Unfortunately, some have attempted to attribute the personal political activities of one member of a five-generation ownership family to our entire company. That is both illogical and unfair.”
L.L. Bean is hoping to avoid the bruising public relations imbroglios that have struck other companies with products seen as linked to Trump’s policies or his or daughter Ivanka Trump’s commercial and retail businesses.
Boston-based New Balance is still grappling with the negative publicity that came after it offered favorable comments about Trump’s position on global trade late last year.
Those comments prompted some unhappy customers to destroy their New Balance shoes by lighting them on fire or attempting to flush them down a toilet in a social media protest that went viral.
While Linda Bean’s political leanings may be well known in Maine or even regionally — she ran twice unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican — the Associated Press reported last week that she contributed $60,000 to the Making America Great Again LLC. The Federal Election Commission said in a letter dated Jan. 4 that Bean’s contribution exceeded the individual donor limit of $5,000. Linda Bean could not be reached for comment.
After news of the donation emerged, anti-Trump group #GrabYourWallet, a social movement that circulates a spreadsheet of companies that support Trump or actively do business with Trump and his family, added L.L. Bean to its “companies to consider boycotting” list. The list also encourages customers to outright boycott other companies including Framingham-based T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, Filene’s Basement, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and others that “sell Trump.”
Shannon Coulter, who started the #GrabYourWallet movement in October in response to Trump’s comments about women, was undeterred by Gorman’s response.
In a series of Twitter posts Monday she took aim at Gorman, saying that instead of PR statements “maybe your energy [is] better spent looking at whether Linda’s support of divisive figures & groups . . . is worth the inevitable damage to your brand.”
And the war of words has continued, despite L.L. Bean’s desire to return to the calmer business of selling backpacks.
“That’s it. No more Bean,” John Eismann from Oakwood, Ohio, posted on L.L. Bean Northport’s Facebook page, echoing other commentators.
To which Chris Dixon of Auburn, Maine, replied: “Good lord, so many people want to punish a good business over one person having free speech in the United States of America?”Woolhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @megwoolhouse.