Hats Off to Stetson for Its Crisis Handling

Thom Weidlich 06.03.21


Iconic hat maker Stetson this week was hit with a nasty crisis not of its own making. The company handled it well, though some observers thought it should have been faster on the draw. The ordeal shows the challenge of responding to an unexpected crisis with even simple, tweeted statements.

On Friday, May 28, a disturbing Instagram post began to be shared online. It featured a new item for sale by a Nashville hat store called HatWRKS. The item was a $5 yellow patch with “not vaccinated” written on it. It resembled the Star of David badge the Nazis forced Jews to wear — drawing a parallel (believe it or not) between vaccination and the Holocaust.

Naturally, a backlash ensued with people using the hashtag #HateWorks and protesting outside the store. The store owner reportedly deleted the post but added two more defending the original one and railing against “tyranny.” Eventually she apologized. “In NO WAY did I intend to trivialize the Star of David or disrespect what happened to millions of people,” the post said. It wasn’t all that convincing.

Many Corners

The episode gave rise to statements from many corners, including the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. But the most high profile in media reports was Stetson, whose roots go back to 1865 and whose hats are sold at HatWRKS.

On Saturday morning, the company tweeted, “We are aware of the situation in Nashville. We take this matter seriously and are investigating in order to take the necessary and appropriate next steps. Along with our distribution partners, Stetson condemns anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind.”

Nine hours later, it followed up with another tweet: “As a result of the offensive content and opinions shared by HatWRKS in Nashville, Stetson and our distribution partners will cease the sale of all Stetson products [to the store]. We thank you for your continued support and patience.”

Fast Enough

While Twitter commenters replied in appreciation of Stetson’s action, others complained it didn’t act fast enough or strongly enough (other vendors cut ties with the store more abruptly).

Yet there was backlash to that backlash. One commenter lauded Stetson for investigating before acting. Another wrote (though it doesn’t appear the company issued an actual press release): “To all who responded with it took too long / Lawyers have to do research / Assemble press release / PROOF READ said press release / I’m sure there is a governing board that must be notified / 9 hours was warp speed.”

Okay, maybe not warp speed but not inappropriate for a Saturday response to an unanticipated crisis. Yes, companies should expect the unexpected, but Stetson wore the white hat here.

Photo Credit: Stetson

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