Negative publicity isn’t for everyone, but it seems to be good for clothing retailers. Last week, when Topshop launched a transparent plastic version of its popular Mom Jeans, the design sparked ridicule on social media – then ended up out of stock.

Retailers are increasingly finding that negative social buzz translates into conversions. In December, Nordstrom sold a rock for $85; the item quickly sold out, ridicule notwithstanding. More recently, the brand launched a pair of $425 jeans covered in fake dirt that aimed to “embody rugged, Americana workwear.” Predictably, social media users were quick to sling mud at the concept. “My husband has jeans like this that he’s been wasting on car repair,” one Twitter user commented.


Are these outrageous designs just unfortunate aesthetic choices, or do they represent strategic attempts to gain attention on social media? Both brands possess enough social savvy that it seems likely their moves fit the latter description. Nordstrom earned the top spot in L2’s Digital IQ Index: Department Stores thanks to its social presence; on Facebook, the brand generates 18 times more interactions than its average competitor. Meanwhile, Topshop grew its Instagram follower count 34% this year and generates an average 41,300 interactions with each post, according to L2 research. As the controversy over its clear pants grew, the retailer rushed to buy PLAs on the term “Topshop plastic jeans,” capitalizing on the trend.

Daily Insights in Your Inbox