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Target’s Scaled-back Pride Plans ‘Disappoint’ Brand Tied to Last Year’s Controversy

Humankind’s founder and chief executive officer criticized Target for playing things “safe” with Pride.

Target’s Scaled-back Pride Plans ‘Disappoint’ Brand Tied to Last Year’s Controversy

Humankind specializes in inclusive swimwear.

A year after Target pulled Humankind’s inclusive swimwear from its shelves, the brand’s founder and chief executive officer Haily Marzullo is disappointed about the chain’s scaled-back plans for Pride.

Last year Humankind’s “tuck-in” swimwear bottom caused ire with some conservatives and led to Target removing that and select other Pride merchandise from its stores. Other Pride-related products were moved to less prominent locations in its stores.

Typically held throughout the month of June, Pride commemorates and celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride and the LGBTQIA+ community at large.

Unlike last year, when children’s Pride apparel was in the mix, this year’s Pride offerings at Target will include adult apparel, home products and food and beverages, which have been “curated based on guest insights and consumer research,” according to a statement issued by Target Wednesday, in response to an interview request from WWD. Those items will retail starting at $3, and will be available in select stores and on target.com.

That distribution is reportedly going to be significantly less than last year.

The Target statement continued, “Target is committed to supporting the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride Month and year-round. Most importantly, we want to create a welcoming and supportive environment for our LGBTQIA+ team members, which reflects our culture of care for the over 400,000 people who work at Target. We have long offered benefits and resources for the community, and we will have internal programs to celebrate Pride 2024.”

The company will also have a presence at local Pride events in Minneapolis and around the country, and will continue to support a number of LGBTQIA+ organizations.

After Target removed Pride-related merchandise from its stores last year following a social media backlash and pushback from conservative consumers and advocates, 100 LGBTQIA+ organizations joined forces to appeal to the national chain. They asked that Target provide necessary security measures for employees’ safety while also showing support for the LGBTQIA+ community by denouncing extremists.

Humankind’s manufacturing partner informed Marzullo that Target would not be carrying the brand’s swimwear for Pride, according to Marzullo. She claimed to have had “dozens of phone calls and emails” with Target’s “highest leadership talking about future years. There was no way to change what this year was going to be because you need to order by August-September to get things in time for Pride. But they were working on something bigger. They wanted a year-round assortment,” she said.

Target’s Scaled-back Pride Plans ‘Disappoint’ Brand Tied to Last Year’s Controversy

A Progress Pride flag.

Marzullo said the retailer wanted to leverage Humankind, because it has the authenticity that the chain needs and recognizes. “But I haven’t heard a single thing. At this point, Target is just capitalizing off the community,” the founder and CEO said.

The Target spokesperson disregarded questions about Humankind.

From Marzullo’s standpoint, the best part about Humankind’s business and the LGBTQIA+ community is customers’ loyalty and that is expected to strengthen with the introduction of new products that don’t exist in the market. Five years ago, Marzullo started Humankind as an inclusive swimwear brand with the goal of making everyone feel comfortable and confident. It now generates annual sales in the seven figures and is produced overseas.

Last year’s controversy with Target hasn’t deterred her in any way. “We continue doing business like we always have. Pride is six or eight weeks out of the year depending on how people want to share their support. But for us as a company, we celebrate inclusivity year-round with different products and collections that go beyond swimwear and Pride,” Marzullo said.

Target’s Scaled-back Pride Plans ‘Disappoint’ Brand Tied to Last Year’s Controversy

Target store

Set up “to really grow,” Humankind is not for sale but its founder said she is focused on what’s next. With a background in brand development and marketing, Marzullo previously ran her own consulting businesses working with Kylie Jenner‘s Kylie Cosmetics, Buck Mason and a handful of others.

Humankind aims to expand by selling to other retailers, provided they are inclusive 365 days a year. “As a company, we’re going to be incredibly cautious about who we partner with moving forward during Pride based on this experience [with Target],” Marzullo said. “This is a warning basically to a lot of other brands, who aren’t supportive year-round. They use queer-owned brands to show their allyship, during June. But they just drop the ball afterward.”

From 2010 to 2019, U.S. states with the highest proportions of LGBTQIA+ residents were associated with more pronounced economic growth, according to a study released last year by Wells Fargo. The community contributes more than $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy, based on data from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. There are also 1.4 million LGBT business owners nationwide.

Having had a partnership with Target the past few years, Marzullo said she has known for the last eight months that Humankind would not be featured in Target’s Pride assortment and that the overall assortment would be a lot smaller. “I’m pretty disappointed about that but I can’t really do very much about that.

“It’s unfortunate that inclusive clothing and Pride in general is being politicized. We needed Target to double down this year after what happened in 2023. Instead Target is choosing to play it safe, which is not how you show your support,” Marzullo said.

Having bootstrapped the business by herself, Marzullo said she is its only employee. She said what is disappointing about Target’s decision is that the plan was to expand beyond swimwear, which is still in the works, but being in a national retailer made Humankind’s products more accessible. “We were able to be in every door nationwide, sell hundreds of thousands of units and our product helped so many people feel comfortable and confident in swimwear that was something that they did not normally feel. What’s incredibly disappointing is that we’re taking one step back now and asking, ‘What’s the next move to make sure that our product is accessible?’”

In addition, Marzullo said she is asking, “’How do we do that in a world where there is a lot of controversy and a lot of people, who don’t necessarily want a lot of inclusive products? I don’t understand why.”

Being tied to a national retailer also can introduce some to the LGBQTIA+ community, raise awareness about issues and offer accessibility including from a pricepoint standpoint, but now “all of that has been taken away from a community that so desperately needs that,” Marzullo said. “What I would love to see is awareness that goes past June. Everyone is talking about this now. I’ve been talking about this for the last eight months. This stuff doesn’t just go away because the media stops reporting on it.”

Claiming that Target had “led Humankind on for the last year with this idea that they would build this year-round assortment” of inclusive category on the sales floor and online 365 days a year, Marzullo does not expect to see that happen in the next year and claimed that Target does not have a team in place for that.