Those calling for a boycott of Equinox and SoulCycle because of their billionaire owner’s ties to Donald Trump face a long list of popular companies with similar ties. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Those calling for a boycott of companies like SoulCycle and Equinox following a controversial fundraiser for Donald Trump might find themselves battling a long list of beloved companies with similar ties.
Celebrities, including active social media players Chrissy Teigen and comedian Billy Eichner, called out the upscale gym chains after learning the billionaire chairman of the brands’ parent company, Stephen Ross, was hosting a high-end fundraiser for Donald Trump on Friday.
The companies, which pride themselves on promoting inclusion and equality, have tried to distance themselves from their investor but are still facing backlash as a result.
But people who try to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to brands and politics might be faced with some tougher decisions than just finding a new place to sweat.
Ross has a stake in some significant fashion enterprises as well, including the star-studded spectacle that is New York Fashion Week.
The tycoon is behind the multimillion-dollar Hudson Yards real-estate project in New York City. According to fashion insider and editor-in-chief of Out magazine, Phillip Picardi, a venue called the Shed arts centre, which is housed at Hudson Yards, will soon become the home to the majority of collections shown at the annual event.
Stephen Ross attends the opening of his multi-million dollar real estate project, Hudson Yards, in New York. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Celeb-endorsed brands with ties to Ross
“The fashion industry has really been built by queer people, people of colour, and immigrants,” said Picardi. “Celebrities who attend NYFW, models who are walking in NYFW, agencies who are booking for NYFW, should be wary of placing their clients or themselves in the Shed and in Hudson Yards because of its ties to Stephen Ross.”
Ross is also a major investor in the PR firm Derris, which represents clothing company Everlane (remember that signature tote Meghan Markle sported in Toronto during the Invictus Games?), the popular millennial makeup company Glossier (even Beyoncé is a fan!) and Reformation (whose dresses are often snapped up by celebrities).
Ross has ties to many fashion companies. He’s an investor in the PR firm Derris, which represents celebrity-favoured brands such as Everlane. Here, Meghan Markle sports an Everlane tote. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation)
So as the list grows, it can be difficult for consumers to stay away from it all.
“Rather than boycotting every single company, what certain groups of people have done is boycott the companies that they feel the most betrayed by,” said Picardi.
And those consumer boycotts can have an impact. Ivanka Trump was forced to close down her fashion line after becoming the target of protest movements when she became part of the Trump administration. Department stores such as Nordstrom, Bed Bath & Beyond and The Bay pulled her line, they said, due to lack of sales.
Joanne McNeish, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, says consumer boycotts work best on publicly traded companies because stock markets react to negative press and on small businesses, which lack the resources to maintain damage control — not the case for those affiliated with Ross, she says.
“My belief is that a few people will quit SoulCycle, for example, and a few companies will disassociate themselves in the short term,” said McNeish, whose research interests include branding, advertising and consumer marketing. “However, the companies associated with Stephen Ross have the … resources to manage during the crisis and afterwards.”
In reaction to the recent fundraising controversy, Ross said he’s known Trump for 40 years and has always been “an active participant in the democratic process.”
“While we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions,” he said in a statement.
Ross, who’s facing backlash for hosting a lavish political fundraiser, poses with Donald Trump at an event in New York in 2010. (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
Ross isn’t the only wealthy target with open ties to Trump and the entertainment industry.
Wait, Marvel too?
“While everyone seems to be on this Equinox thing, it might be a good time to mention that one of Trump’s largest financial contributors is the chairman of Marvel Entertainment,” Armie Hammer, who starred in the Oscar-nominated Call Me By Your Name, tweeted Friday.
Hey, while everyone seems to be on this Equinox thing, it might be a good time to mention that one of Trump’s largest financial contributors is the chairman of Marvel Entertainment (Isaac Perlmutter)….. jussayin.
Hammer was referring to Isaac Perlmutter, an Israeli-American entrepreneur. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Perlmutter contributed $1 million US to Trump’s campaign in 2016 and according to the New York Times, the businessman has remained an informal adviser to the president.
Marvel Entertainment runs Marvel Comics, Marvel Animation and Marvel Television. But those who might feel torn between their love for Iron Man and their disillusionment with American politics can have a bit of reprieve.
Marvel Studios, which released blockbusters such as The Avengers, Black Panther, Spider-Man and X-Men, used to fall under Marvel Entertainment but recently became a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios. Under its current branding, Marvel Studios has also moved to incorporate more diversity and strong female leads into its upcoming features.
In other words, most superheroes are still safe even if the boycott calls go further — and that’s a big if.
“I don’t think that in this case, the emotions will run hot enough and long enough for any long term damage to be done to the brands,” said McNeish.