In Other News: Lands’ End Customers Rage Over GQ

by Harry Sheff

July 2014 GQSome of Lands’ End’s more chaste customers are apoplectic over unsolicited free issues of GQ they received in the mail, and national media (The New York Times, NBC News, The Houston Chronicle, The Huffington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer) is clamoring to cover the kerfuffle.

Lands’ End has had a subscription deal with publisher Conde Nast for the last year under which free copies of its magazines, including GQ, were mailed to customers. The July GQ was sent to those who spent more than $100 between July 9th and the 16th. The cover, pictured here, features model Emily Ratajkowski wearing a lei.

“How can buying something as family friendly as school uniforms lead to soft porn in the mailbox?” wrote an indignant mother on the Lands’ End Facebook page. Another angry mother wrote, “I recently ordered conservative swim suits from you for our family, which we were very happy about. Until, yesterday when I was sent an extremely inappropriate magazine as a thank you gift. I have young boys in my home who we exposed to pornographic images as a result.”

Lands’ End CEO Edgar Huber sent an apology letter to customers that said in part, “I would like to start by extending my most sincere apologies … There are simply no excuses; this was a mistake.” Huber vowed to shift those GQ subscriptions to Condé Nast Traveler.

Many customers wrote that they’d never buy from Lands’ End again. Others were moved by the CEO’s apology. “We have small children at home and take great strides to keep pornography out of our home,” wrote a mother. “It was very upsetting to see the cover and we quickly threw it in the trash. I was going to call you today but received the classy email apologizing. Thank you for canceling and I would encourage you to stay a family friendly company.”

It didn’t take long for the backlash to the backlash begin. “Good grief people, it is a magazine that you can pick up in the grocery store!” wrote one woman. “I’ve never seen myself as a Lands’ End customer,” wrote a man. “However, hearing the outcry over this ‘gaffe’ makes me want to become one, as well as subscribe to GQ.”

Lands’ End was founded in 1963 by Gary Comer in Chicago as a mail-order retailer for yachting gear. By 1977, the company had shifted to apparel and was doing $1 million in sales. It moved to its current Dodgeville, Wisc. home in the early 1980s. The company was acquired by retail giant Sears in 2002, and by December last year was on its way to becoming independent again.

Over the years, Lands’ End became known for wholesome basics—and school uniforms. By 2009, the retailer sought to reach younger, more fashion-forward men and women by launching a new division. Lands’ End Canvas offered closer fitting styles that looked more like J. Crew than the traditional Lands’ End.

It seems likely that it was Lands’ End’s efforts to develop its younger men’s clientele that led to the GQ partnership. But the retailer alienated its base by connecting the free GQ issues with precisely the wrong customers.

A Conde Nast spokesperson told the New York Times, “Condé Nast has partnerships with many retailers that involve the gift of a subscription with purchase of their product. How the programs are carried out and which of their customers receive subscriptions is entirely determined by them.”