The Unacceptable Retailer

I love my job.  Where else could I discover, while drinking a cup of tea and listening to the sound of the rain, that the maker of fancy jeans (in this case, Citizens of Humanity) cannot sue Costco just because they don’t like the fact that an unclassy place like Costco has managed to get its hands on their jeans and is selling them to people who don’t look like the ideal Citizens of Humanity customer.  (How does this customer look?  Mostly, it doesn’t matter how she looks, it just matters that she does her shopping in a hushed boutique on Sacramento Street in San Francisco rather than in Costco in San Leandro, which, whatever it is, is not hushed.) 

How do I know this?  Because every day, without fail, I get something called the Daily Appellate Report, a little newspaper of all the cases that are decided by the appellate courts in California, and in the federal court that covers California and even in the United States Supreme Court.

Most of the time these cases are eye glazingly dull, and I know better than to share the details of them with anyone in his or her right mind.  But I live for moments when I learn something like how there is a whole legal rule that covers the situation of the Unacceptable Retailer.  You know, Costco.  I also live for the moment when I see a criminal case and the defendant is named Lenin Freud Perez-Torres.  This is what keeps me reading the Daily Appellate Report.

Anyway, the interesting thing about the Unacceptable Retailer is this:  how did a not-so-classy establishment like Costco get the fancy jeans they are selling in their unacceptable retail space in the first place?   The case I read does not answer this question, but I am going to hazard a guess, which is what I do when I read things and the most interesting questions are not answered.  My guess is that, although Citizens of  Humanity is too good to sell their jeans to Costco, there happen to be Acceptable Retailers, retailers Citizens of Humanities happily sells to, who have no such compunction.  And small wonder. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have very tight, very expensive jeans on my shopping list this year.  (I never did, but let’s ignore that for a moment.  I’m going to guess that there actually ARE many shoppers who have interlineated this item right off their shopping lists.)  So, there you are in your hushed store on Sacramento Street, staring at the stacks and stacks of unsold Citizens of Humanity jeans.  You look around and realize your store is hushed because no one is visiting it, not because it is such a quiet temple to beautiful fashion that no one ever talks inside it.  You find yourself wishing your store was a little noisier, like … Costco!   After that, it is the work of a moment to bundle up all those jeans (indeed, you might even place an extra large order for them), and take them over to Costco.  There, in between sampling biscotti and vegetarian lasagne, you sell these pants to the Unacceptable Guy at Costco Who Buys Luxury Items and Resells Them at Acceptable Prices. 

This proves several things.  First, it shows that lurking inside the apparently chilly heart of the Acceptable Retailer who looks at you cross-eyed when you walk in the door, is the Unacceptable Retailer.  It also proves that the Unacceptable Retailer is not someone we should look askance at, because they generally charge Acceptable Prices.  And, in the case of Costco, they also pay decent wages and provide health care.  Third, in case you are wondering, Citizens of Humanity cannot actually win in a lawsuit against Costco if Costco got the pants without stealing them or doing some other bad thing to get its hands on them.   

Fourth, it proves that on a day when it is raining really, really hard (there were actual “thunderstorm warnings” on the radio this morning which made me totally laugh because it just proves what weather wimps we are here in northern California) and I see a lot of homeless people on my way in to work and think about how many people are hungry and cold, the idea of Acceptable and Unacceptable Retailers, really bugs me.  What I think today is that it’s unacceptable that it’s hard to find a job and easy to lose one, and that people are hungry and cold.  And I see too that this case (which began in 2006 and is still going strong) is a leftover from another age, a time when many people plunked down their credit cards, walked away with $200 jeans, and thought maybe that would make them happy.  How and why all that occurred is beyond me today, but I will say that it is heartening that for more and more people the Acceptable Retail Experience involves going to Costco and buying food for the food bank, which is all to the good, in my view.

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16 thoughts on “The Unacceptable Retailer

  1. I heartily agree with you, Bloglily. And the marketing that links “citizen” and “humanity” with trendy and expensive pants? Give me a break!

  2. My conscience is clear, I’ve never bought anything in one of those shi-shi boutiques. My fav jeans I currently own set me back $15 at Marshall’s.

    I agree with Bora, I find it insulting and offensive on so many levels to call them “Citizens of Humanity”. Unless this company is donating 75% of their profits to humanitarian causes they should be sued for false advertising.

  3. Got to say, I also found a lot of positive things about Costco when I did a paper on servant leadership and Starbucks and Walmart (about whom I found, well, fewer positive things).

    (My Diesel’s are starting to feel a little uncomfortable, mind you)

  4. I don’t own a single pair of jeans of any sort. I find them binding and uncomfortable, my least favorite part of jeans is the flat fell seam that is arranged just so it can rub and irritate and bite the most tender portions of my anatomy. The last time I owned jeans was somewhere around 1972. My husband wears jeans, which invariable come from the factory outlet store for Lee Jeans over at the VF Factory Outlet Mall.

    Citizens of Humanity? am I the only person who finds the juxtaposition of those two terms incomprehensible? I was under the impression that a “citizen” implied some sort of relationship with a governmental body, and as far as I am aware, Humanity is not a governmental body. But it sounds so nice.

    I was unaware that there was such a concept as unacceptable and acceptable retailers. This is probably because I live in a community where a chi chi boutique would go bankrupt in about two months, unless they were really well capitalized, in which case it would probably take them four months. In my quaint way, I thought that an acceptable retailer would be one who was able to sell the merchandise you produce, thereby allowing your manufacturing facility to make a profit. But what do I know?

    My favorite place to shop is the Bear Market, which is a refurbished supermarket that sells stuff on consignment, a place where you can easily find a wonderful long sleeved silk blouse that some person no longer wants and purchase it for approximately $3.00 rather than the $60-70 you would spend at say, Cold Water Creek or a similar place. So I’m probably not the right person to judge on whether a retailer is acceptable or not.

  5. Um. Bloglily, I love your post it is so thoughtful and conscientious and brought me a new perspective to matters.

    But Um. I feel a bit guilty, for afterwards I got a bit excited: Citizens of Humanity jeans at Costco!!!!

    (Yes, I wear those horridly expensive nonsensical designer jeans).

  6. So I googled CoH and looked at their jeans and now I’m really confused. $200 for a pair of jeans that doesn’t even go all the way to the waist so you can look forward to your pants falling down (I wore hip huggers when I was in college and they were a big pain and looked very silly with long johns), and as an extra added benefit they are already worn out. Pathetic people buying jeans that have been “distressed” so you can look like you actually do some work in them. Boy, do I have the distressed jeans for you people, Jim distresses them to death during the course of our daily grind. If I had $200 I’d be buying myself some plants for my new garden beds, but it looks a lot like I’ll have to practice delayed gratification for that.

    $200 for a pair of pants. And I thought my son was insane when he wanted to spend $85 for a pair of baggy jeans when they were all the rage around here.

  7. bl–
    you write so clearly and with such passion which of course is why we come here…
    “and I see a lot of homeless people on my way in to work and think about how many people are hungry and cold, the idea of Acceptable and Unacceptable Retailers, really bugs me. What I think today is that it’s unacceptable that it’s hard to find a job and easy to lose one, and that people are hungry and cold.” Yes.

    I also am particularly taken with “interlineated” — ? is this a lawyer sort of word? I’m looking it up righ now 😉

  8. My acceptable retailer is the one that sells me stuff I want at prices that allow them to stay in business and me to buy said stuff. As for clothing, that boils down to us visiting a big outlet centre two or three times a year. That will usually take care of most clothes shopping. We buy what we need, then stop at one of the restaurants for a small meal and a coffee before we leave. And I refuse to buy clothing that uses me as a billboard for their huge logo’s.

  9. Edwin, I’d say that’s pretty much the definition the courts go with also — a stripped down idea of how commerce works.

    OP — So here I was, thinking interlineated is a five dollar word for “crossed out,” when it is nothing of the kind, and really, as a person who interlineates (i.e., writes between the lines) all the time, I should know that!

    Dear Ms. HMH — Like you, why anyone would want to wear uncomfortable clothing is beyond me. And, similarly, I have a hard time with the way things of relatively equivalent value can be sold for such wildly different prices simply by making one thing seem scarce or elite when, actually, as DD points out, it’s not that much different from what you can spend $15 for at Marshall’s.

    However, I do understand wanting to fit in and wanting to look terrific, impulses that are particularly strong among teenagers. My feeling at this point, is that when children have relatively modest, but not ineffective, clothing allowances (and jobs!) they will be able to figure out how much they want to spend on those impulses. And good luck with that garden! It is going to be a thing of beauty, born out of a lot of hard work and distressed jeans.

    dear Ms. Jade — all are welcome here, as you know, even those who wear fancy pants. As for your moment of excitement about the Costco shopping opportunity, I am a woman who loves a bargain, and I know this feeling that must have surged through you when you read my post. There is no greater pleasure than finding that a thing you wanted and thought was really out of your reach, is now within your reach. That this thing happens to be a pair of jeans with a ridiculous name, well, who am I — a woman who doesn’t even know what “interlineated” means — to judge?

    Why Cara, you are most welcome! I try to keep the law talk to a minimum, but sometimes I cannot resist.

    U-Dad — you wrote a paper on servant leadership? I feel I really must know more about that. My vague recollection is that the CEO of Costco limits his pay to some fairly reasonable multiplier of his lowest paid employee’s salary. I liked that idea a lot.

    DD — I agree. I can only imagine the conversation that went into choosing this name.

    Bora — I spent about five minutes thinking about what true citizens of humanity might be doing today and could come up with nothing that had anything to do with pants.

  10. We are passionate about our jeans, no doubt about it. Ever since I discovered the democratic shopping extravaganza that is eBay I’ve never looked back. That’s where I buy most of my jeans. In stores they would be shockingly expensive; on eBay they are shockingly reasonable. The jeans are Adriano Goldschmied. The people who sell them are citizens of humanity.

  11. Tai — That is exactly my luxury shopping strategy and I am thrilled to hear you promote it! There are things I love, would never ever pay the retail price for and find discarded on ebay, looking for someone to give them a good home, which I happily do, all the while feeling sort of citizen of humanity-ish. The thing is, I do this less and less, because the things I buy on ebay seem to last forever, if I choose carefully.

  12. I wear jeans all the time, quite possibly because I was never allowed them as a child. But I do buy them from Next, which I imagine may be a Costco equivalent. Anyhow, I never pay more than about twenty pounds for a pair. But that makes me wonder how much the person making the jeans got paid. I’d be prepared to spend more if I thought really clearly about what happens further back down the line. Clothing has always been a terrible place for sweatshops and appalling working conditions and I wonder whether the expensive boutiques and the cheap stores source their jeans from the same people, who in turn pay their workers absolute peanuts for producing them? I’m now hijacking your wonderful post, dear BL (you see how contagious is concern for injustice) and starting to think about Unacceptable Manufacturers too, which only extends the problem….

  13. Litlove, I don’t think you’re hijacking anything at all — this issue of where things come from and under what conditions they are made is incredibly important!

    Archie — Those ab fab ladies are very funny, aren’t they? Better that than court tv, any old day.

  14. Citizens of Humanity will be even MORE ironic a name if their spokesperson is Paris Hilton…I’m not an expert on retailing, but didn’t the shi-shi retailer have to buy the jeans from C of H first? So why should C of H care if that shi-shi temple of quietness sold their inventory to the noisy church of Costco?

    On a recent trip to Costco, where I have bought some pretty cool jeans, btw, I saw the C of H table. My first thought was, what a weird name. Next: I don’t think I could wear something with a name like that. Too weird. I bought Lucky Brand jeans. You know, the ones with the zipper that when you pull it down say, “lucky you.” For less than twenty bucks, I felt pretty lucky.

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