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Why Some Brands Are Sitting Out Black Friday

Take ModCloth, for example.

Women sit on a bunch with numerous Victoria’s Secret bags at their feet. Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

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For some retailers, especially the big mall chains that have been struggling recently, Black Friday is one of the most important days of the year — so crucial to their bottom lines that they’ve started offering bargains earlier and earlier in the week and keep them going through Cyber Monday. For other stores, rejecting Black Friday and the over-the-top consumer culture it represents has become a big branding opportunity.

Such is the case for ModCloth, which announced yesterday that it’s going dark on Black Friday and donating more than $5 million in merchandise to Dress for Success, an organization that provides professional attire to women entering the workforce who might not otherwise be able to afford it. That’s obviously a good thing.

It also casts ModCloth in a virtuous light at a time when many customers don’t see it that way: When Walmart acquired ModCloth in March, longtime shoppers voiced their disappointment over the indie site “selling out” to an “ethically bankrupt mega-corp.” There’s also a petition circling that demands improved treatment of Walmart’s female workers, alleging unequal pay and denial of paid parental leave. Signees are boycotting ModCloth specifically under the belief that the brand’s history of feminism and body positivity has been used to give Walmart an undeserved PR boost.

Plenty of brands have subverted Black Friday to do good or simply to make a point. REI closes its stores and encourages its shoppers to get outside instead. Patagonia donated all of its Black Friday income to grassroots environmental organizations last year. This time around, the outdoor retailer isn’t doing anything at all, discounts or otherwise, in seeming indifference to the whole thing. These are branding moves, too. But it’s always worth considering what else is going on with a company’s business when Black Friday promotions roll around.

In case you were wondering: Yes, ModCloth is holding a Cyber Monday sale. So regardless of Black Friday, it’s still going to benefit from this year’s shopping frenzy.