Guess? Inc. (GES) shares are recovering Friday morning after plunging nearly 18% following model Kate Upton's allegations against the brand's co-founder Paul Marciano.
It was trading at $15.12 at 12:16 p.m.
By 4 p.m. Thursday, the stock had already begun to level. Marciano, who created the brand with his four brothers in 1981, told TMZ Thursday afternoon that he has never touched the Sports Illustrated model and is shocked by her allegations.
Upton, who has been a face of Guess since 2011, told the tabloid that she plans on telling her story at a later date.
Since the #MeToo movement emerged in October in the wake of multiple accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, women across sectors have spoken up about their experiences with sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Many of these instances resulted in reprimand and financial losses.
When allegations against comedian Louis C. K. surfaced last year, HBO removed all his shows from its cable and streaming services, and cancelled the premier of his new film. NBC News fired its longtime Today Show host Matt Lauer after the company received a detailed complaint about his inappropriate sexual behavior. And when the Humane Society decided against firing CEO Wayne Pacelle this week despite the multiple harassment complaints against him, several board members resigned.
Upton's tweet marks the beginnings of retail's first brush with the burgeoning #MeToo movement.
Beyond the immediate hit on Guess' stock, industry analysts suggest that the brand may suffer lasting damage — especially if more women come forward. Given the demonstrated power of #MeToo, investors too need to be aware that their holdings could be vulnerable, they said.
If Marciano were less involved with the company, Guess could recover by dismissing him, according to Kim Forrest, a senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group. "This is a founder who is still running the company," she told TheStreet. "If the allegations are true, even if Guess gets rid of the offender, it'll be difficult to distance itself from him."
Marciano is the executive chairman and chief creative officer of Guess. He was the long-time CEO of the brand until 2015, when Inditex's Victor Herrero took the helm. Herrero's efforts in turning around the once-ailing retailer have been fruitful, as its shares increased by more than 50% this past year.
Nonetheless, "Marciano is still seen as the person behind the brand," said Susan Anderson, an analyst at B. Riley FBR Inc. who covers Guess. "It could really hurt sales, and retail stores are already not doing great."
Guess does have one built-in defense: the bulk of its revenue comes from Europe and Asia, where #MeToo is not as salient. In its third quarter, revenue from Europe and Asia comprised 53% of its total revenue of $554 million.
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Still, the momentum around the social movement is formidable as well.
"If the movement has the potential to hurt an individual's reputation, it could hurt that of a corporation," said David Bell, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "We're going to see more and more of this happening. Social media is a pretty powerful tool."
Retail is a field in which "there are a lot of contact between people in power and young women," Forrest said, pointing to fashion photographer Terry Richardson, who is now blacklisted by Condé Nast magazines because of sexual misconduct allegations, and American Apparel founder Dov Charney, who was sued by multiple former employees — and later, his own company — for alleged sexual harassment.
More recently, fashion photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber were accused by two dozen male models and former employees of coercive sexual advances and harassment. Since then, they've also been blacklisted by Condé Nast.
Of Guess' eight board of directors, only one is female, according to information obtained from BoardEx.
On Upton's twitter thread Thursday, multiple people claimed to have had similar experiences with Marciano or know someone who has.
"I worked with him for a few years and was too afraid to say anything, but this is true," one Twitter user replied. "So very true."
Thank you for speaking up on this. I personally know someone who was affected this way while I was working there. I'm sorry this happened to you as well.— Cari (@SaviChick) February 1, 2018
I worked with him for a few years and was too afraid to say anything, but this is true. So very true.— Sade Sellers (@IAMSadeSellers) February 1, 2018
The discourse surrounding #MeToo, nevertheless, has transcended social media.
"The attention on this is huge," said Forrest. "As an investor, I'd say look into your portfolio and see if you're exposed."
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