Why are Americans going crazy for Lilly Pulitzer at Target?

Ethical Shopping fashion designers Lilly Pulitzer Musings shopping Target

Shopping for Lilly Pulitzer at Target? Not nearly this relaxing.

Shopping for Lilly Pulitzer at Target? Definitely not this relaxing. (photo: Lilly Pulitzer for Target)


Do you remember the Cabbage Patch riots of 1983? For some still unfathomable reason, Cabbage Patch Kids were the must-have doll of the moment, but demand exceeded supply; customers lined up by the hundreds and surged into stores, causing chaos and injury. It was munchkin mayhem.

Yesterday, April 19 2015, Target launched a collection by designer Lilly Pulitzer. Not designed by Pulitzer herself of course, as she is no longer with us, but created by her eponymous company. Target has done very well with its many designer collaborations, and it seems reasonable that this one would be no different. This strategy, of having a high-end designer create a collection for a lower-end store, with a very limited release (selling out very quickly), is a recipe for retail frenzy. Cue the stampede!

Lilly Pulitzer is the line that Red Thread is most often compared to, as it is also known for its vibrant floral prints in juicy colours. I appreciate this comparison because the celebration of colour and pattern is central to everything Red Thread. But Lilly Pulitzer is a prestige lifestyle brand, perhaps best described as “resort chic,” associated with affluence and leisure. And the more affluent the brand, the more effort customers will expend to snap up the lower-priced version, or so it seems to me.

I get it. The appeal of a famous, expensive brand is strong, and the opportunity to own some at a budget price is alluring, maybe even alluring enough to stand outside all night and then elbow a stranger (or worse) without remorse. Many people were upset that the first shoppers yesterday emptied entire racks, presumably to make a profit reselling the items on eBay. But when we covet things with such intensity, can we really blame those who seek to profit? The very nature of these promotions, the combination of over-the-top marketing material with hyped release dates and limited availability of merchandise, creates the perfect conditions for poor behaviour.

Here’s what I don’t get. When we look at the marketing material for the Lilly Pulitzer promotion, such as this fun promo video featuring celebrities enjoying a lavish party, we are presented with the ultimate in luxury (check out the dapper chimp serving drinks!) but we all know that the rich and famous do not wear Target clothing. We know that Target does not only sell products made in ethical production facilities using quality materials, and we know that the garments we purchase there are not designed to stand the test of time, regardless of whose name is on the label. For those of us who care about these things, is the lure of a high-end designer available in a limited-edition cheap version enough to inspire a novelty shopping frenzy?

News outlets are reporting that the Lilly Pulitzer release sold out within hours, and social media is buzzing today with Target complaints and apologies. Is all fair in love and shopping? I’d love to know what you think of this kind of designer promotion. Is it worth the hype?

Devorah Miller
Red Thread Design

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