Last month, BuzzFeed reported that Hanna Andersson, the popular Portland, Oregon-based children’s clothing company, had no black employees among its 139 person corporate team and that its leadership team was entirely white. BuzzFeed interviewed three current and six former employees, who pointed a finger at the company’s CEO, Mike Edwards, alleging that he has a history of silencing those employees who do not agree with them, especially when criticisms center around racial diversity. And as of Thursday, he has resigned.
A former employee said the culture of racism at Hanna is so prevalent, even prior to Edwards’ employment, that an executive so fiercely objected to the inclusion of a black family on the cover of their 2018 holiday catalog, the campaign was reshot with a white family. “The [black] family wasn’t ‘Hanna’ enough,” the employee said.
When former Andersson copywriter Benjamin Kessler addressed Edwards during a town hall meeting in January and mentioned that he’d love to see “a greater amount of diversity in our marketing,” Edwards emailed him and reportedly said his suggestion was “insulting for the many leadership working for positive change and growth,” adding that “While I find it insulting that you don’t think we value diversity, you clearly don’t understand or appreciate the backgrounds of your leadership team. You have a choice: engage and appreciate where I am taking the company or we can reach an agreement for you to leave immediately.” Kessler said he was told to apologize or lose his job. He was laid off two months later.
Another former employee, Meghan Cali, criticized her former employer on Instagram by writing, “If Hanna truly wants to live up to their mission to support ALL moms... their white male CEO should step down immediately and the company should seek to replace him with a woman of color.” Edwards then found her on Linkedin, threatened to contact her current employer to get her fired, and wrote, “You do not know anything about me, our culture, our brand values. Your comments are as racist as I have seen. Our parents expect Hanna to represent everyone and provide positive energy—not to be a political site. If you don’t apologize, we’re going to war.”
He told BuzzFeed, “If I reach out to anyone on any matter, it’s to seek an understanding.”
Edwards resigned on Thursday afternoon. According to an internal memo sent around to staff, he was stepping down “to focus on his family and personal interests.” It reads, “We look forward to Hanna’s next chapter, building on our success, and to demonstrating to our customers and stakeholders the type of company we strive to be. We recognize there is more work to do and we encourage you to continue providing feedback and creating an open dialogue. On behalf of both the Board and the Hanna leadership team, we commit to doing better.” We’ll have to wait and see about that.