I was teaching a workshop last month. A storyteller mentioned Lands' End as a detail in her story. When she was finished, I asked her what Lands' End was.
"You don't know what Lands' End is?" she asked. "No. You have to know what Lands' End is."
A woman sitting beside her said, "I really don't think he knows."
It's true. I didn't know.
"Do you know what LL Bean is?" the first woman asked.
"Yes," I said.
"Lands' End is like LL Bean."
"Oh," I said and moved on.
At the time I thought LL Bean was a store in Maine that sells outdoor clothing and camping equipment. I also knew that it's the company that once offered a lifetime guarantee on their products until a bunch of jerks tried to return 25 year old boots and ruined it for everyone.
So I assumed that Lands' End was another store, possibly in Maine, that sold similar products. Boots. Tents. Flannel shirts.
Last night I mentioned this moment to my friend, Jeni Bonaldo. Her response:
"You don't know what Lands' End is? How is that possible?" Same incredulous tone as the first woman. A few seconds later, she asked, "Do you know what LL Bean is?"
Rather than accepting this LL Bean analogy and moving on, I asked, "What exactly is Lands' End?"
Here is what Jeni told me, distilled to its essence:
Lands' End is a catalog company that sells clothing, primarily to middle-aged women.
This is essentially true. I did some research into Lands' End and found that it's a clothing and home decor retailer based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, that specializes in casual clothing, luggage, and home furnishings. The majority of Lands' End's business is conducted through mail order catalogs and internet sales, but the company also runs retail operations, primarily in the Upper Midwest, along with international shops in at least five countries.
I also learned that although Lands' End sells men's clothing, more than two-thirds of their business goes to women. In recent Bloomberg and CNBC pieces, Lands End was described as "a label known more for courting mothers and kids."
Knowing all this, I'm confused.
Why is it so odd that I wouldn't know what Lands' End is? I've never driven by a Lands' End store in my life. Never seen or held one of their catalogs. Never seen a Lands' End commercial on TV, and based upon my research, they almost never advertise on TV or radio. I'm also not a middle aged women looking to purchase clothing, luggage, or home decor or a child whose mother is dressing in Lands' End garb.
It appears that in 2015, Lands End attempted to pivot the company in the direction of a younger, "cooler" customer (I happen to think middle-aged women are exceptionally cool), but as of 2018, their customer demographics have changed very little.
This is a company that sells clothing primarily to women through mail order catalogs.
Of course I don't know what Lands' End is.
This does not mean that all men are unfamiliar with Lands' End. I'm quite certain that many men have seen these catalogs before and are aware of its existence. Perhaps a mother or wife or sister is a Lands' End customer. Or maybe he's one of Lands' End's minority male shoppers.
In fact, perhaps most Americans are familiar with the Lands' End brand, but to be surprised that I am not is frankly a little surprising.
It's a store that sells clothing to women through mail order catalogs. If I'm going to lack awareness of any retail company, wouldn't Lands' End be that company?
No physical presence in the Northeast. No advertising on television. No catalogs in my home, unless Elysha Dicks is receiving them and I haven't noticed. And no "Lands' End" labels on coats or shirts like the annoying North Face.
Happily, I know what Lands' End is now. I've filled that gap. Infused myself with knowledge.
I feel no better for doing so.