Real Leaders

Drug-inspired Fashion: It’s to die for

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Terrorists move over. There’s a far worse terror in town that is targeting kids and adults, killing well over ten times more Americans this year than all terrorist attacks of the last 16 years combined.

That’s correct. While politicians have spent several trillion dollars on foreign wars, they’ve distracted us from the very real threat that can be found literally in our own homes, targeting our families. In 1997, the U.S. became one of only two developed countries on the planet that made it legal for pharmaceutical companies to advertise drug use directly to consumers, including children. Since then prescription drug addiction and prescription drug overdoses have skyrocketed – actually quadrupled.

We now have a generation of young adults who grew up with a drug dealer living in their homes 24/7 – the television and magazines pushing pills as a solution to every imaginable condition. Eighty percent of opioid addictions begin with a prescription for pain medication at your doctor’s office. It must be safe if a doctor prescribes it, right? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 47,055 people died of an accidental drug overdose – 29,467 of those from opioid-related drugs, which includes prescription pain medication.

These facts have not stopped Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue from promoting a new line of Italian-designer products that glamorize drug use. The Moschino collection features pill-shaped handbags, backpacks, and clothing emblazoned with pill designs starting at $650 for a pill-adorned black dress and rising to $1,095 for a pill-encrusted purse.

Many customers are outraged, declaring that they are boycotting Nordstrom and Saks for carrying these products after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared that we are in the midst of a prescription opioid overdose epidemic.

Randy Anderson, an alcohol and drug counselor in Minneapolis, has seen firsthand the havoc that addiction has on individuals, families, communities, business, healthcare systems and the country, and he’s not impressed. He started a petition at last week asking consumers to say no to Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. To save money and lives by shopping elsewhere.

“Do you have any idea of the message your company is sending to those who have suffered the loss of a loved one due to a drug overdose?” says Anderson in his letter to the retailers. “Have you not seen the countless number of media reports on overdose deaths from prescription pain medication?”



Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Four out of five people who become addicted to heroin start out with a legal prescription from a physician – a result of injury, post-operative care or a medical procedure.

At a time when most large companies are trying hard, in some way, to align themselves with social good and positive causes, these executives have trivialized the important issue of drug addiction. They seem oblivious to the harm it may cause others, by promoting pills as “cool”, or even the harm it may cause their brand if public outrage goes viral.

There are plenty of examples of how fashion norms have found themselves on the wrong side of public opinion and been forced to change. Anti-anorexia campaigns have resulted in the boycotting of fashion weeks, governments legislating to ban too-thin models and fashion magazines refusing to print undernourished models on their pages. Kids clothing with sexist messaging has been ridiculed and forced off the shelves around the world. Each brand has lost the battle against public opinion.



In a written statement Nordstrom said: “We’ve heard from some customers about this collection, and we’re sorry to learn they’re disappointed. Every customer we serve has unique tastes, which is why we offer a wide range of products.”

Nordstrom faced a similar decision four years ago while promoting gun related jewelry following the New Town massacre and promptly responded to customer’s outrage by removing all of the product from the store. A reputation of being responsive to customers is what Nordstrom’s success was built on.

They appear to be taking a different approach today in defending their intention to serve customers with “unique tastes”. Even if these executives were old-school capitalists who believe business has no responsibility beyond creation of profits and shareholder value, the fact that there are far more customers impacted by addiction in their family than there are customers dying to buy overpriced pill-promoting backpacks, it’s likely that Saks or Nordstrom will decide that this product line is not good business. Whichever one announces first will win in the competition for customer loyalty.



To end on a positive note, the most respected leaders of business today are putting their customers and community first. In 2014 CVS Drug Stores made the bold decision to stop selling cigarettes in their stores, putting the well-being of their customers above their $2 billion a year in tobacco revenues. In 2016 they launched a $50 million anti-smoking campaign. That’s real leadership. The kind of leadership that is rewarded with employee and customer loyalty.

Sign the petition here

Update: The Star Tribune reported on Thursday 6 October that Nordstrom, via an email, has agreed to discontinue the Moschino Capsule clothing line in their stores. Saks has yet to respond to any correspondence or to comment on the issue.


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