Just before Christmas my little island of Vieques was all a titter because a gaggle of Victoria’s Secret models was flown in for a fashion shoot. The fuss reminded me about something most people don’t know about Victoria’s Secret.
The bra behemoth made the calculated decision in mid-2013 to refuse to make a line for women who have undergone mastectomy surgery.
What do we make of a corporation that trades on the breasts of women, but turns its back on those same women when those same breasts are ravaged by cancer?
Breast cancer does not spare younger women, either. I personally know two women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in their thirties and had radical mastectomies. In fact, Debbie Barrett, who led the effort to convince Victoria’s Secret to design a “Survivor” bra, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36.
I accompany my wife, a breast cancer survivor, to her monthly treatments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City. On the second floor of the East 66th Street facility is a huge waiting room filled with scores of women of all ages, nationalities and races. These women are there to see their oncologists. Up on the third floor is an equally large room filled with women waiting for their chemotherapy infusions.
This is only one day at one medical facility in one city. I can’t guess the number of other breast cancer treatment facilities like it across the country and around the world.
An estimated 232,670 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in 2014 and 40,000 died.
I know a little about how product development and marketing decisions are made. The process starts with defining market requirements—in other words, can we sell enough units to make the profit we want?
But that’s not the way Victoria’s Secret explained their decision:
"Through our research, we have learned that fitting and selling mastectomy bras in the right way...a way that is beneficial to women is complicated and truly a science. As a result, we believe that the best way for us to make an impact for our customers is to continue funding cancer research."
There is a facet of a company's character called corporate citizenship. It encompasses things like support of the arts, respecting the environment, contributing to research and charitable programs. Call it “doing the right thing.”
Here’s Sheila Moeschen, writing in Huffington Post about the ill-considered corporate citizenship of Victoria’s Secret:
“A woman living as a cancer survivor is not just a body transformed, hers is a life transformed. Victoria's Secret could have been a part of this process. They had the opportunity to participate in the journeys of these women in meaningful ways and to make a clear and inspired statement about valuing all types of bodies, about acknowledging the hidden impacts of breast cancer, and about setting an example for young women that defies the stigma associated with disease. Instead, they opted to stick to making gauzy Barbie doll peignoir sets and cotton candy-colored training bras for its ‘bright young things.’"
Victoria’s Secret released its craftily worded press statement and moved on. They knew the negative publicity would subside. They knew their sleazy secret would be forgotten.
Don’t let it.
In my next blog, “Operator, I’ve Been Disconnected”