Friday, July 31, 2015

The Biggest Story of the Mall

All I know about the Hollister stores is that I don't shop there.  I went there once to buy a gift card for a friend considerably younger, and I remember the staff looking at me as if I were there to commit an armed robbery, or, worse, try to be cool.


I walk past their stores in the many malls I mallwalk, and I hear the music and sniff the scent they exude, and that reminds me of the fans that food vendors use at carnivals, to blow the delightful aroma of frying sausage and onions into a crowd of suddenly-hungry people.

If you're going into business to sell clothing to people for whom coolness is important, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be cool or selling things to those who are, you'd better come up with a cool hitch, and that is what Dave Eggers wrote about in a recent article in The New Yorker ("The Real Hollister," July 20, 2015 issue). 

The whole Hollister story is all made up!  To quote from the article: 

For years, employees of Hollister stores, during orientation, were given the story, and it goes something like this: John M. Hollister was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent his summers in Maine as a youth. He was an adventurous boy who loved to swim in the clear and cold waters there. He graduated from Yale in 1915 and, eschewing the cushy Manhattan life suggested for him, set sail for the Dutch East Indies, where he purchased a rubber plantation in 1917. He fell in love with a woman named Meta and bought a fifty-foot schooner. He and Meta sailed around the South Pacific, treasuring “the works of the artisans that lived there,” and eventually settled in Los Angeles, in 1919. They had a child, John, Jr., and opened a shop in Laguna Beach that sold goods from the South Pacific—furniture, jewelry, linens, and artifacts. When John, Jr., came of age and took over the business, he included surf clothing and gear. (He was an exceptional surfer himself.) His surf shop, which bore his name, grew in popularity until it became a globally recognized brand. The Hollister story is one of “passion, youth and love of the sea,” evoking “the harmony of romance, beauty, adventure.”
Eggers writes that a man named Mike Jeffries concocted this entire story to build an aura of surf 'n' sun 'n' California fun for his stores so that kids in Conway, Arkansas would flock in and shell out $45 for a hoodie to get in on the Cali vibe.

Again, nothing wrong with this.  That's how businesses position themselves in the marketplace.  

Eggers drove to Hollister, California - the real town -  to look around.  His great-great-grandfather T. S. Hawkins was one of the founders of that town.  Hawkins was a man who went west in American's 19th Century expansion, and he became prosperous enough to leave large tracts of land that partially make up what is now the town of Hollister.  And the town's only hospital was named in honor of his late granddaughter Hazel Hawkins, who died at age 9 in 1901, in part because there was no hospital to serve the newly-formed town.  

California Schemin'
Hollister today is a town of 36,000 people, 2/3 of them Latino, a typical unglamorous American small town with some business and a lot of agriculture. It's just that most American towns did not have their name pulled out of thin air to serve as the fictional backdrop for a fable about a brand name. Abercrombie & Fitch owns the chain of stores, and so zealous are they to protect their brand name that they took legal action against a woman who lives in Hollister and tried to sell vintage blue jeans under the name "Rag City Blues: Hollister".  And the student athletes at Hollister High School began to worry that the company would come after them for wearing, say, a baseball jersey with their school name on the chest. 

With these things in mind, the local business community approached Abercrombie & Fitch, only to be told, they say, that the Hollister brand would not find the right audience in Hollister.
And this is why I love big commerce, whose attitude is, "We'll take your town's name and sell sweatshirts with it, but not in your town."

Eggers also wrote that he spent an entire day in town and saw not ONE item of "Hollister So Cal" clothing being worn. Well, I guess not! You can't get it there.

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