The day that Sephora closed all its stores

The world of fashion has become especially sensitive to discriminatory events. From that mishap suffered by the presenter Oprah Winfrey in the Trois Pommes store in Switzerland in 2013, to the sayings that caused the cancellation of the Dolce & Gabbana show in China in recent months.

However, the conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton LVMH has been characterized by supporting diversity in this world of such rigid standards, such as the fashion and luxury sector. “Beauty is diverse and it has many voices and faces,” Sephora’s vice president of marketing, Deborah Ye, said a few years ago.

For this reason, it was surprising that at a Sephora store (a brand that belongs to LVMH) in Calabazas, California, the R & B singer known as SZA was subject to a discriminatory act. The singer said that a store clerk had called security to make sure she was not stealing.

After the event was announced, the company announced that a one-hour workshop on diversity would be given to its 16,000 employees. In the United States alone, Sephora has 10,000 employees, which makes it one of the largest companies that temporarily closes to perform diversity training. However, these types of maneuvers are not new, Starbucks did the same in May 2018 after a similar incident in one of its branches in Philadelphia.

It is worth highlighting two elements of this situation. On the one hand, the complexity of all the people that make up a company know and are trained in the values ​​of the company itself. The companies do not usually give it the importance that it requires that all the organic structure know and act according to the values ​​on which the company was founded. Cases in which workers who are in direct contact with customers are responsible for discriminatory acts are increasingly sound, but this is due to the lack of training in what values ​​represent brands and how to act accordingly.

On the other hand, it is worth asking if a training, whether a day or an hour, are enough to raise awareness among workers about such complicated aspects not only to explain, but to internalize, such as diversity. A one-hour training, on the same day, to all workers, announced through a press release, seems more like a marketing strategy than taking a real commitment against discrimination.

Brands must be aware that information technologies give consumers a lot of power by making companies vulnerable. That is, years ago, an act of discrimination could be ignored, worse today social networks return these viral acts. This inevitably harms the reputation of brands. Thus, brands must commit to true training, not only in the values ​​of their companies, but what those values ​​mean in daily work, whether they are in contact with the public or not. Only in this way can an appropriate crisis management strategy be carried out.


In 2013, a Spanish airline known as Air Europa had an incident with a wheelchair passenger after denying access for not carrying a passenger. The passenger Mara Zabala, of Spanish origin, complained to the employees of the airline for not allowing her to board the plane. The employees of the airline argued that, due to security policy, it was necessary for the passenger to have a companion who could assist her in case of an emergency.
Zabala, who by the way is an expert in social communication, used Twitter to denounce the company that forbade her to travel unaccompanied when other companies do. Under the hashtags “#denuncia #discapacidad #denuncia”, in a short time reached thousands of retweets, so the message of denunciation quickly gained popularity.
The tweet generated many criticisms of the company not only for denying the service to Zabala – when she had previously traveled alone with Air Europa – but also for not having facilities for people with reduced mobility that other airlines offered. The mistake of Air Europa was to ignore the damage to its image that comments on social networks were causing. The company chose to ignore the incident. The most he did was to reiterate to Zabala what his internal policy stipulated about passengers in need of additional assistance. In the absence of a communication strategy focused on mitigating the crisis, comments on social networks continued to escalate. Eventually, a problem in customer service escalated to touch a much larger issue: that of discrimination.
The problem escalated to attract the attention of Spanish legislators and, eventually, the European Commission. The Popular Party of Spain asked Air Europa to hold a meeting to discuss the incident. Given the refusal of Air Europa, the Spanish Popular Party presented the case to the European Commission through the Group of the European People’s Party.
Soon, the European Commission published a report on current legislation that allows airlines to request a passenger in a wheelchair to travel with a companion. The report stated that the legislation helps airlines benefit from forcing users with disabilities to buy another plane ticket. Based on this report, Zabala appealed to various organizations for the protection of persons with disabilities, stating that the legislation is clearly discriminatory. One of these bodies, the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Persons with Disabilities, demanded that Air Europa change its internal policy on its own initiative, since the current regulation does not guarantee them. For its part, the European Commission announced that the regulation of airlines in terms of security would be reviewed in order to address problems such as Zabala, but to date there have been no changes.
The case of Air Europa demonstrates that the omission of a problem is a problem in itself, sometimes just as damaging to reputation as making an equivocal decision about it. Starting with a tweet, the magnitude of the crisis escalated to reach the halls of national and supranational governmental instances. A strategy of silence before the problem contributed to increase the crisis since, for many users, it seemed that the company was not doing anything to solve the problem.

Do you have doubts about how to handle reputation crises? Write to info@riesgospoliticos.com.mx to provide you with the advice you need.



Photo by Doug Maloney on Unsplash