Welcome to our column, “Hey, Quick Question,” where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries. Enjoy!
On the off chance you completely missed it because you just woke up from one of those months-long comas, got stranded on an island “Castaway” style or have emerged from the forest where you live with a family of wolves, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. Covid-19, or the coronavirus, has ripped through cities and countries, leaving hundreds of thousands dead. In an effort to try and keep the death toll down, many places have put stay-at-home orders in place to keep citizens from interacting and further spreading the disease.
One such locale is sunny Los Angeles, where county officials are warning residents that they should expect such orders to stay in place through July or even August. But I guess no one told either fast fashion retailer Boohoo or the kids locked up in TikTok collab house Clubhouse, since the former threw a sponsored barbecue event for the latter on Thursday, according to members’ Instagram stories.
If you’re unfamiliar with TikTok collab houses, Taylor Lorenz wrote a story for The New York Times about how they’re handling the current crisis — coincidentally, also on Thursday — which serves as a handy catch-up on the phenomenon. These are sprawling mansions where popular users on TikTok can cohabitate and, obviously, collaborate on content, using each other’s clout as a kind of multiplier to garner more followers for the whole group. Clubhouse, the collab house in question, was founded by Daisy Keech and Abby Rao, and Seventeen has a primer on that, as well.
According to Lorenz’s story, members of collab houses like Clubhouse “are sequestered in their plush residences for the foreseeable future.”
“It’s kind of surreal,” Rao told the Times. “I’m wondering when it’s going to end. I realize now how much we took for granted before. Just being able to go to our favorite beaches, take pictures and have picnics, or go see a movie.”
Looks like Rao didn’t have to wait long.
Boohoo came through and turned Clubhouse into an Instagram activation for all the million-follower influencers, complete with a photo backdrop, private catering, outdoor games like cornhole and so many pool floats that you can barely see the pool itself. Oh, and Boohoo clothes, natch.
Now, because I am An Old, I cannot tell for certain how many of the people present are actually part of the Clubhouse and if anyone is there who shouldn’t be. Regardless, there are a TON of people there — way more than is recommended by current CDC guidelines. And even if every single one of those people followed stay-at-home recommendations, only interacting with the people in the collab house, the staff brought in to prep this event were not. Most staffers seem to be wearing masks, but in the background of one Clubhouse story announcing a giveaway, you can see a few men wandering in the background without them.
More importantly, staffers who were wearing masks — like the chefs and florists brought on site to create this social media moment — would only help not transmit possible disease to members of the Clubhouse. Not a single member, on the other hand, is spotted properly wearing a mask, putting those staffers at risk.
I have so many questions about this that it’s hard to even know where to begin, but primarily, I need to know: Who on earth thought this was a good idea? An entire team of people who get paid to know public relations conceived and followed through with the idea of throwing a branded party in the middle of a health crisis. I’m sure that the line of thinking was that all these people have self-quarantined, making it a safe option, but what about all the staffers involved? Was it worth putting workers at risk to sell a few cheap bathing suits? Did no one, at any point in conceptualizing this or on either side, stop to think about what a bad look this is?
One thing I’m sure of is that, as the summer drags on without the potential for these kind of branded blowouts at events like music festivals and #RevolveAroundtheWorld influencer trips, thirsty brands like Boohoo will be looking for ways to create them. But if you want to put aside both this open flouting of LA stay-at-home orders (I’m sorry, but creating a social media activation is not, and will never be, “essential” business) and the pretty awful health risks of this event, at the end of the day, this was also extremely tacky.
There’s a very “let them eat cake” attitude involved with a brand throwing a sponsored event to boast about on social media when many people are still quarantining at home out of necessity and concern for public health. The way things are headed, it’s not looking like many folks will be throwing pool parties or barbecues this summer, all the better for keeping our friends and neighbors safe.
Guess that doesn’t matter when clout is at stake, though.