Late last year, for instance, Macy’s was pressured by some customers to dump real estate mogul Donald Trump’s line of $65 power ties after the billionaire verbally attacked President Barack Obama on social media following his re-election. One customer collected close to 700,000 signatures on a petition website signon.org. Macy’s stood by Trump.
Another example: home maven Martha Stewart. After being convicted on federal criminal charges of lying to prosecutors about a stock sale, she served a five-month prison sentence that ended in 2005. Kmart, which sold her towels and kitchen accessories until 2009, continued to carry her line.
But experts say that the subject of race can stir up even more emotions, so there’s less tolerance for slip-ups. “Everybody wants to be fair minded and not make generalizations about a group,” said Marty Brochstein of the Licensing Industry Merchandising Association, a trade group.
Celebrity chef Paula Deen‘s empire, which spanned from pots to TV shows, began to unravel in June, within days of the public disclosure of a legal deposition in she admitted under oath to having used the N-word to describe black employees. In addition to losing TV shows and book deals, Deen lost valuable partnerships when Target and other retailers said they’d no longer sell her products.
Until now, Michael Stone, CEO of brand licensing agency Beanstalk, says it’s been the norm for personalities to have moral clauses in contracts that let merchants back out. But Stone, who has reviewed 100 celebrity contracts, says he hasn’t seen it the other way.
For Jay-Z’s part, it’s not clear what he’ll do as he faces pressure from an online petition and Twitter messages from fans.
Barneys is expected to start selling items next month by top designers, inspired by Jay-Z, with some of the proceeds going to his charity. Jay-Z is also working with the store to create its artistic holiday window display.