OSD 122: Arc'teryx and the maybe cancelled cancellation

GORE-TEX stops everything except for internet drama.

An email from Arc’teryx caused a little kerfuffle this week. Someone working at a company in the firearms industry had emailed Arc’teryx to order some custom-branded apparel, and got the following reply:

Thank you for your email and interest in the brand.

Our policy has changed since you last placed an order with us, specifically in regards to the industries in which we align our brand, and the decision was made to not do business with weapons manufacturers anymore. Unfortunately, this means we are not able to proceed with your order at this time.

We appreciate your understanding, cooperation, and thank you for your business.

Soldier Systems did some digging on this, and it appears that it may have been a mistake. Specifically:

The email looked legitimate, but I was skeptical of the story since I had just received an Arc’teryx fleece along with others from SIG Sauer during a Defense Media event a few weeks back. What’s more, SIG Academy’s pro shop is well stocked with [law enforcement and armed forces (LEAF)] product embroidered with the SIG logo.

Instead of what is asserted in the email, interaction with the tactical industry (to include firearms related businesses) has transitioned to the LEAF team from corporate sales since those businesses have more in common with LEAF.

What I gather happened was that the Service Coordinator misunderstood the situation and thought that since the Professional & Corporate Sales Team would no longer handle those clients, Arc’teryx writ large was no longer doing business with them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Internally, this has been addressed.

Arc’teryx also provided Solider Systems with this statement:

The email screenshot expressing a restrictive policy on corporate sales to tactical industry business was sent out in error. It does not reflect our current policy. The customer has been notified, apologized to, and been put in touch with a representative from the Arc’teryx LEAF business unit.

Big companies make two kinds of policies. One happens on the rare occasions where they craft a major strategic realignment, build a plan to execute on it, and then roll out a PR push. The second is the normal kind, where the employees play a game of telephone and then post the results on the internet.

This seems to have been the latter.

But false alarms are a good opportunity to think about what you’d do if the alarm were real. When this story first broke, people rushed to boycott Arc’teryx. Is that the right move? The wrong one?

It’s a hot topic recently, but litigating who to shun is nothing new. Avoiding people who breach your norms, after all, is what makes it possible for society to work.

It’s a hot topic recently, but tolerating those who disagree with you is nothing new. Remaining open to people who breach your norms, after all, is what makes it possible for society to work.

In other words, there’s no objective answer on this stuff. We all shun some people unconditionally, embrace others unconditionally, and pretty much do whatever suits our gut sense of fairness the rest of the time. That’s not very actionable, though. Let’s make this more concrete: how do you know whether to avoid a company over gun stuff?

We have some experience with this. We’ve avoided using certain vendors, and turned down interview requests from certain media outlets, because we didn’t think highly of the way they approach these issues. We’ve also worked with journalists with whom we disagree about guns, where we’ve felt that the resulting interview would be fair and productive.

How to know which path to take? Some principles:

  1. Don’t rush. Reputational damage is hard to undo, both for those who rush into a wrong decision and those who are unfairly hurt by that wrong decision. These things are almost never as urgent as they seem in the moment. If something’s the right decision, don’t worry, it’ll still be the right decision in a couple days. Take the time to get it right.

  2. Lift up an alternative. As much energy as you put into chastising a company, put that same amount of energy into boosting a company that’s doing better.

  3. First-order boycotts only. “I won’t do business with anyone who does x” is finite. Going to a second-order boycott — “I won’t do business with anyone who does business with anyone who does x” or “I won’t do business with anyone who doesn’t boycott x” — creates a runaway chain reaction of balkanization.

The bigger reality around all of this, though, is that if a company dissociates itself from gun stuff, then gun stuff wasn’t important to it. Which means a boycott is too late. The answer, as ever, is to build the culture so that companies want to associate with us. Culture-building is a positive, pro-social act. It implies actively expanding the circles we interact with, not litigating ways to shrink them. That doesn’t mean that if a company takes some anti-gun stand, you shouldn’t boycott them. We’d be right alongside you in boycotting them. But this is just to say that our primary energy should always be focused on creating, and detractors should stay an afterthought.

This week’s links

Texas just became the 21st state to reinstitute permitless carry

The new law goes into effect on September 1.

Jeffree Star posting more gun stuff on Instagram

One of the biggest accounts out there, in an industry that has nothing to do with guns. This is a big deal for normalizing gun ownership across the gamut.

Lucky Gunner: “Are pistol sights actually useful for self-defense?”

Chris Baker going deep into the data on this in a tidy 12-minute video.

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