In December, Printify, the on-demand custom merchandise platform, was selling “Free Kyle” merchandise created by the family of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with shooting and killing two people and injuring one during the August protests in Kenosha, Wis.
Last week, Printify issued a statement that it will no longer sell the merchandise created, claiming that it violates company policy.
“We have chosen to discontinue our business relationship with this store in order to mitigate business risk,” the company statement said, per the AP. “Ultimately, we don’t want to be affiliated with a store that’s involved in such a complex, controversial and ongoing case.”
When the company says “the store,” it is referring to the merchandise designed by Rittenhouse’s family, which also operates social media platforms under the FreeKyleUSA name. Printify allows designers to create merchandise with the option to sell through its own e-commerce platform or through various other e-commerce sites such as Shopify or Etsy.
Rittenhouse's family started selling "Free Kyle" merchandise through Printify last week, saying the money would go toward his legal defense. Printify tweeted that it has terminated the family's account. https://t.co/0NDToORRHp
— WSIL News (@WSILNews) December 24, 2020
Kimberly Motley, the attorney representing Gaige Grosskreutz, the man who was injured by Rittenhouse in Kenosha, called the merchandise sale “vile and disgusting and in extreme poor taste.”
The Rittenhouse family, on the other hand, reportedly is trying to find another platform that will sell their products, calling Printify’s decision to sever ties “a powerful, concerted effort solely focused on preventing the truth from getting out.” They had been selling the merchandise in an effort to raise money for the Illinois teen's legal defense.
Rittenhouse’s case is ongoing, and he’s currently facing charges of first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and fist-degree reckless homicide. Rittenhouse and his legal team have maintained that he acted in self defense.
It makes sense for companies like Printify that sell third-party designs to distance themselves from controversial merchandise, especially that relating to ongoing legal matters. And it's far from the first time we've seen anything like this.
Similar custom merchandise platforms, such as Teespring, have taken more active roles in regulating the messages they sell and, therefore, tacitly stand behind. Even if that’s not the case, it’s a matter of perception. It’s the same reason companies like Nike stopped selling gear with the name “Washington Redskins” on it.
Even if these companies throw out a disclaimer that hosting a product or retweeting something does not equal an endorsement, it's easy for consumers to view it that. And for businesses as large as Nike down to startup custom merchandise companies, perception matters a lot.