On April 2nd, Reese Witherspoon’s Southern lifestyle label Draper James made a nice offer: a free Draper James dress to any teacher who applied. When I heard of that deal, I thought it sounded kind of silly (a free dress in the middle of a pandemic, really?), but I guess I underestimated the fact that there are many teachers who would simply like a cute, free dress. So, long story short, almost one million teachers filled out the application, which included not only their personal information (name, address) but also some kind of proof that they were a teacher (in most cases, a photo of their school badge or school ID). The problem was that Reese and the Draper James team also underestimated teachers’ desire for a cute free dress. They were only planning on giving away about 250 dresses. Again, they got a million applications.
Reese Witherspoon‘s fashion brand Draper James announced it would be gifting free dresses to teachers to thank them for their tireless efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. Education professionals were directed to an online application form with a deadline, and told that “winners” would be notified the following week and sent their dresses “while supplies last.” But while Draper James’ initial announcement was well-intentioned and met with much fanfare, the 30-person company — which had planned to distribute 250 dresses in total — seemed to have underestimated just how many teachers would take them up on the offer. There are more than three million public school teachers in the US alone.
According to the New York Times, “the application form crashed almost immediately. Just days after the original Instagram post appeared, it had been viewed more than 400,000 times. Teachers were emailing one another and sharing it online. By the close of the application period, Draper James had almost one million applications — which was approximately seven times the total number of dresses they had sold in 2019.”
Now, teachers who assumed they were entering a giveaway rather than a raffle — and who had to share photos of their school IDs and their work email addresses in order to apply — are sharing their frustration on social media. “Out of 535 teachers on a social media page on FB, not even one got a free @draperjames dress! What in the what??,” one person tweeted. “All of us received codes for either 20-30% off codes. Can’t even afford the dresses with a discount! Great marketing ploy!🤪🤷♀️”
“We felt like we moved too quickly and didn’t anticipate the volume of the response,” Draper James’ senior vice president for brand marketing and creative, Marissa Cooley, told the Times. “We were really overwhelmed. It was way more volume than the company had ever seen. We expected the single digit thousands.”
According to the publication, applicants received a follow-up email from Draper James last weekend, stating that the brand had made a donation to an organization supplying teachers and students with school necessities. The company added that it was “actively working on expanding our offerings, both internally and with outside retail partners who were also inspired by your stories and want to join in honoring your community, and we ask for your patience while we organize this effort.”
I would hope – and I sincerely mean this – that Reese Witherspoon understands that she needs to pay out of pocket to manufacture hundreds of thousands of Draper James dresses in a short time so that most of these teachers can get a free dress. I’m not saying that every teacher who applied should absolutely get a new dress, but Reese should aim for half. She should aim for 400K to 500K dresses given away. I think that’s completely reasonable, given the outpouring of interest in this giveaway. I really, really hope that Reese and her people won’t just act like this was all some misunderstanding and that of course she will only give away 250 dresses, sorry not sorry. She wanted a good PR hit and it blew up in her face. Time to make it right, Reese!
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We were so excited to reward 250 teachers across the United States with a free dress. We love educators all over the world for what they do everyday, but especially right now. See our Stories to see how teachers are navigating the world of remote learning. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your stories with us.
Photos courtesy of Draper James IG.