Clothing company Bonobos built its business on a simple idea that turned out to meet a real need: It made a better-fitting pair of men’s pants. “The innovation was a curved waistband,” cofounder Andy Dunn told Racked in 2015. “And our pants were not too tight, but not too loose on the thigh.” The brand, which sells primarily online, has since expanded into other products and some physical stores, accruing a large and loyal following in the process, particularly among millennial online shoppers.
But since the announcement on June 16 that Walmart would acquire the company, that following has not been happy. On the day of the news, people rushed to the brand’s Facebook page to vent their disapproval. Weeks later, the anger has continued, in the form of a flood of irate and sarcastic comments left on anything shared by Bonobos on their page.
A notice of a 25% off sale posted on June 27, for instance, drew the comment, “Glad to see you guys rolling back those prices…,” playing off Walmart’s phrasing for lowering prices. “Now I can get my jorts and chinos at the same place,” another wrote. The image announcing the sale included lemons, prompting one commenter to add, “FYI…..Lemons are on aisle 3 at Wal Mart.”
An earlier video explaining the fit of Bonobos’ pants received the question, “How are you adjusting the fit options for the standard Wal-Mart customer?”
A photo Bonobos posted of a guy lounging in a pool float in one of its suits prompted the quip, “Both the above-ground pool and clothing available at your local Wal-Mart …”
Cheap shots—often with classist overtones—aside, other Bonobos fans have worried on forums such as Reddit that the quality of the brand’s products will go downhill. People love the fit and style of the clothes, and many guys disappointed with the big mass-market players, such as Banana Republic, turn to it for their office wear. Their concern is that the Walmart acquisition will lead to Bonobos changing or cheapening its product.
The brand tried to head off these concerns in its Facebook message to announce the sale, and with a blog post from Dunn explaining the decision. It wrote, “We understand this news might come as a surprise but know that everything that makes Bonobos the brand that it is will stay the same.” It also pointed out that its products will only sell on Walmart-owned Jet.com, and not through Walmart itself.
Its more vocal followers apparently haven’t felt reassured, however. We have reached out to Bonobos for comment and will update this story with any reply.
Women’s online retailer ModCloth faced a similar onslaught when Walmart bought the company in March, showcasing the strong emotions people feel when their favorite small brands decide to sell. And as much as these brands may try to assure loyal customers their businesses won’t change, they can’t necessarily control how those customers feel about the new owners.
“I will be placing a headline about how your new poisonous parent is an abusive employer, and a corporate welfare leech, on every sponsored advert I see in my feed,” one person commented on Bonobos’ Facebook page, referring to the allegations of labor abuses against Walmart and the accusation that it is able to pay its employees so little because the government allows them to survive with welfare programs. “After the deal is finalized, I’ll leave for good, and you can just enjoy being a cog in the detestable machine.”