Officials at retail giant Nordstrom have agreed to stop selling sandals with a built-in flask after receiving complaints from the Oregon Partnership, a community-based prevention and treatment organization.
The flip-flop style sandals, manufactured by Reef, were spotted by Oregon Partnership communications director Pete Schulberg on a recent visit to a Nordstrom store in Portland. Schulberg quickly dashed off a letter to Nordstrom's president of stores, Erik B. Nordstrom, describing the sandals as having a hidden three-ounce flask, a funnel, and a plastic key.
“We at Oregon Partnership … consider this product as a means for underage drinkers to hide alcohol,” wrote Schulberg. “School officials and prevention groups around the country agree with us … We believe that if we are to make inroads into the crisis that is underage drinking, products such as the Reef flip-flops should not be sold under the Nordstrom banner and in Nordstrom stores.”
Shortly thereafter, Erik Nordstrom left a voicemail message for Schulberg referring to the Reef sandals in question as a “ridiculous product” and said they would be removed from store shelves.
“Our goal is to have great fashion,” said Michael Boyd, a Nordstrom spokesperson, who confirmed that Nordstrom left the message for Schulberg. Boyd said that while the company did not view the sandals — sold in the men's department — as an obvious attempt to encourage alcohol use or target a specific age group, the product “seems gimmicky” and “doesn't fit with our merchandise mix,” he said.
“It's not irregular for us to hear from our customers about what they want and don't want us to carry,” said Boyd. “We listen to our customers and make decisions based on their feedback.”
Schulberg said that Oregon Partnership is “thrilled that Nordstrom made the decision to discontinue sales of the flip-flops and that they made it so quickly.”
“Often, store chains will wait for negative media coverage before removing products,” he noted. “But Nordstrom responded to our request immediately and agreed with us that it's a product that's not worthy of its stores.”
Schulberg said that there are no immediate plans to target other retailers selling the Reef sandals, but added, “We're always on the lookout, especially in major chain stores.”
This isn't the first time that Reef has run afoul of youth alcohol-prevention activists; in March, the company was criticized by youth advocates in Baltimore for products like its “Dram” and “BYOB” flip-flops, containing built-in flasks and/or bottle openers.
“Kids wear flip-flops to school and all over the place,” Mike Gimbel, director of substance-abuse education at Sheppard Pratt Health Systems, told the Baltimore Sun. “You would never know the kid was walking around with vodka in the bottom of their shoe.”