Corporate bankruptcies in the US just hit the largest rate since the worst of the lockdowns. It’s a reflection of a wild boom and bust fed by $8 trillion in stimulus plus crazy impositions that broke supply chains and destabilized normal work patterns. Some of the winners are now losers, and many of the businesses destroyed along the way will never come back.
Stories of the rise and fall of enterprises are always fascinating. But there are some strange twists and turns associated with the fall of Something Navy, the fashion line started by Arielle Charnas that is now for sale for $1. The brand opened in early 2020, just on the cusp of lockdowns, and in the wake of the prevailing ethos that anyone with more than one million Instagram followers could make a financial killing.
Thus did her company raise $10 million in venture funding, and was variously valued at $100 million. What did she sell? Her style. The idea was that if you buy clothes under her brand, you could be as happy, pretty, and well adjusted as she – at least that was the implicit message. But of course, in the end, her clothing was nothing but the usual pile of wispy petroleum product you can snag at any flea market, and consumers were disappointed.
Her company now sits on $7.5 million in liabilities and $450,000 in unpaid bills, all of which would need to be absorbed by the new owner if there is one.
What is the lesson? Maybe it casts doubt on the capacity of any 1M+ influencer to make a grand business. Maybe it is a warning against rising too far too fast without a stable product and customer base. Maybe it is just an uneventful story of the wiles of enterprise: some make it and some don’t and no one much cares either way.
But there is even more to the story. It turns out that Ms. Charnas faced a Covid lynch mob after lockdowns hit in March 2020. She lived in New York, found herself testing positive for Covid, and then fled to the Hamptons where she posted pictures of herself enjoying the fresh air. What’s wrong with that? Honestly, I cannot say.
For whatever weird reason, she faced a barrage of vicious attacks in the midst of all of this. Before we completely forget those times, let’s try to revisit those times and figure it out. As best I can tell, she was denounced for getting Covid, which at the time was seen as proof that you were not complying with the great protocols, plus getting a Covid test in a time of short supply, and then finding her way to shelter in a luxurious hideout. For weird reasons of mass psychology and frenzy, all of this was seen as evil. This is the backstory for the collapse of her fashion brand.
The best we can do to deconstruct this is simply to quote from a bonkers news story dated April 3, 2020, and posted by NBC. See if you can make any sense of this.
The story begins: “Social media influencer Arielle Charnas, who sparked outrage in March when she disclosed she tested positive for COVID-19 after being screened by a friend, is facing renewed backlash for retreating to the Hamptons.”
Notice the language here. Sparked outrage? Among whom and where is the proof? Maybe people denounced her on her Instagram page because…they didn’t have anything else to do. So maybe a few hundred anonymous accounts blasted her. How is that sparking outrage? And yet the journalist Janelle Griffith, who seems to cover social media influencers, just repeats that like it is some kind of truth from the heavens.
Same goes for “renewed backlash.” Where is the evidence of this? It’s never given. The article itself seems designed to CREATE the backlash and the hate.
Let’s keep going, and truly I’m not making this up:
In mid-March, the Something Navy blogger and designer said on Instagram that she had had a sore throat and a fever for the “past two days.” She said she was told she did not meet the criteria to be tested for COVID-19, and that she should treat her symptoms at home.
But a short time after, Charnas said in her Instagram Stories that she had tested positive for the coronavirus and that her friend Dr. Jake Deutsch supplied the test….
She faced swift backlash from people who said, among other things, that she was privileged and had received preferential treatment at a time when many sick people, including healthcare workers, were unable to get diagnoses.
After she tested positive, Charnas posted several photos of herself. In one photo uploaded seven days ago, she posed outdoors in front of a pool in the Hamptons. That photo was captioned: “Fresh air” and included a prayer hands emoji. The photo was no longer visible on her Instagram page as of Friday afternoon.
Talk about a witch hunt, and over what? A lady with a sore throat? A trip to the Hamptons? It’s incredible but in order to understand this, you have to remember the stigmatization of the sick at the time, plus the travel restrictions. There was a belief at the time that the mere act of driving from here to there – rather than staying home and staying safe – was some kind of unpatriotic act.
So poor Chanas had to recount exactly what she did.
Charnas defended the decision in her statement Thursday, saying that after she learned she tested positive for COVID-19 on March 19, she, along with her husband and their nanny, both of whom also tested positive, and the couple’s children, followed all of their doctors’ recommendations “to a tee.” Charnas said they quarantined at her home in New York City for 14 days beginning March 13 when she first began feeling ill.
You see? She complied, she says.
“Once we properly monitored our symptoms and determined that a) we had no fever for at least 72 hours, b) all symptoms had improved and c) at least seven days had passed since our symptoms first appeared, we decided to leave the city, after several consultations with doctors who granted us permission,” she said.
New York City is dense, Charnas said, and has “the highest number of cases in the U.S., and we felt it would be safer for us to resume our lives while continuing to quarantine elsewhere.”
She claims the family left New York City and traveled to the Hamptons by car without coming into contact with anyone.
There we go: never in contact! How well I remember these days. People were expected never to drive anywhere but if they did, they had to fill up their tank of gas using gloves and then douse with sanitizer, and go the entire length of the trip with no more fill-ups or bathroom breaks because of course coming in contact with a human person is only spreading disease.
It’s hard to believe we actually lived through these times. But we did. It was all insane for reasons we do not even have to explain any more.
In any case, the cancellations began. Noticing that Nordstroms carries her clothing line, people began to write to corporate headquarters to demand that they end the relationship. The craven idiots at Nordstroms immediately cut her off, claiming no relationship exists anymore.
The story ends with an absolutely sad and pathetic grovel from Charnas herself. The statement reads like something made during a Maoist struggle session.
“We all make mistakes, including me, especially when a crisis such as this is developing so quickly,” she concluded in her Thursday statement. “My family and I are truly sorry to those we have offended for not appearing to be taking this crisis gravely seriously, and we are committed to making informed, responsible decisions moving forward.”
So there we go: her real sin was behaving like a normal person when the rest of the world had descended into complete madness. How much did the whole frenzy harm the company? It’s not entirely clear and sales certainly seemed to recover for a time. Maybe it was destined to fail in any case.
Still, the story of Arielle Charnas and her business aspirations is not a normal tale of a failed enterprise. Corporate media attempted to shove the company over the cliff in the midst of social panic, rampant cancel culture, disease hysteria, the madness of crowds, and despotic government restrictions. It’s one story of many millions but no less tragic. It should also serve as a warning about the nature of the beast that confronts civilized life.
A coda: Business Insider reports as follows: “The US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Charnas’ husband, Brandon Charnas, was involved in ‘possible insider trading violations,’ according to a press release. Brandon Charnas, who the SEC said has not cooperated with the investigation, traded stock weeks ahead of Staples announcing an offer to acquire Office Depot — resulting in at least $385,000 in profits, according to the press release.”
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