Duluth Trading taken to task over wool comment

Clara Parkes and Lisa Surber's social media posts revealing Duluth Trading's negative comments regarding wool attracted a lot of attention. Courtesy image

Truth in labeling is a hot issue these days. When self-proclaimed “wool whisperer” Clara Parkes, posted an image on Facebook Nov. 27, of an advertisement calling wool “smelly animal fur,” even she was surprised by the response.

Three days later she reported the post had garnered 540 comments and had been seen over 30,000 times. South Dakota Sheepgrowers Association Executive Director Lisa Surber McKinley shared the post, and over 550 people shared it from her page.

Duluth Trading Company, a clothing retailer that seems to market toward blue collar type of work, including agriculture, and is known for their cheeky, over-the-top humor in their ad campaigns surprised the world with a seemingly anti-wool comment describing their Men’s Grab Fleece Lined Jacket.

Although the store does sell some wool items including hats, socks and more, the description for this particular item, in one a catalog, has some sheep producers upset. “No smelly animal fur here. Just soft, furnace-warm 200 gram polyester fleece,” says the explanation. It includes a cartoon image of a sheep.

“This has gotten so much traction — more shares than anything I’ve ever posted before,” said Parkes.

The author of several books about wool — particularly yarn, production from “sheep to shelf,” Parkes said she plans to boycott Duluth unless the company changes its tune. But she wasn’t looking to cause harm to the company with her post – rather she hopes to start a meaningful conversation about wool and the people who produce it. She hopes her extensive network of social media friends will reach out to Duluth to share their positive experiences with wool. Several of them commented on the post that they did, indeed write to Duluth Trading.

“I wanted to frame it like this, let’s talk about why this is odious and how there is great potential to take a leadership position, to train your marketing department to speak accurately. I don’t know if they realize that there is the potential for legitimate damage with what they are being so flippant about.”

Parkes learned to knit from her grandmother, and she may have inherited her love of wool from that same special lady.

“I wonder if it’s almost in your blood, this fiber that has clothed us for millennia. It’s noble, it’s good. When I see wool being shelved for plastic which is made from oil… it’s like telling people you need to drink soda instead of water. It makes no sense.”

John Helle of Dillon, Montana, agrees. “I think it’s amusing that people think you can put ‘stinky animal fur’ and ‘polyester fleece’ in the same sentence. We’re finding out that polyester microfibers are not only hugely detrimental to the environment, but the polyester holds bacteria that enhances body odor,” said the sheep rancher.

While Helle said he doesn’t believe Duluth Trading is anti-livestock, he will not be buying anything from the company until they at least address their audience.”

“I would like to let them clarify their position before we hammer them. A lot of their stuff is pretty funny.”

The Helle family is a majority owner in Duckworth Wool, a company that sells USA-made wool apparel made from Helle sheep wool. “I’m not going to say anything bad about Duluth but there are alternatives. You can always vote with your money,” he said.

Surber’s Facebook post included information about contacting Duluth Trading: “So disappointed in Duluth Trading Company and their marketing ad against #wool and #agriculture I will be contacting #duluthtradingco and encourage others to do the same #morewoollessplastic #boycottduluthtradingcompany Contact the company at (866) 300-9719 or (608) 424-1915.”

Duluth Trading said it does not have a comment on the issue.