Walmart pulls ‘Newfie’ T-shirts

Company behind the Paddy’s Day design says it meant no offence

Published on February 23, 2016
Tara Bradbury/The Telegram
A pile of “Newfie beer removal” T-shirts was selling at the Stavanger Drive Walmart location for $10 on Sunday, days after Walmart said it was not selling the shirt at all. Walmart says the shirts have now been pulled from the stores.

The company behind the “Newfie beer removal service” T-shirt that earned Walmart some flak says it didn’t intend to offend anyone, and is working with the department store giant to pull the shirt from store shelves.

“In respect for the feelings of some of our fellow Newfoundlanders who find it offensive, we have, in conjunction with Walmart, decided to remove the T-shirt from all Walmart stores in the province,” Bill Coady of Islandwide Distributors said in an email.

“St. Paddy’s Newfie Beer Removal Service — pints, pitchers, kegs” is printed in white lettering along with an image of a beer stein on the green T-shirt, which is also available at Pipers stores and some Only Deals dollar store locations.

Bob Hallett, a local restaurateur and member of Great Big Sea, posted an image of the T-shirt on Twitter last week, with the caption, “Really, Walmart? We’ve got to get past this shit.”

While some Twitter users saw no problem with the shirts, many agreed with Hallett and contacted Walmart to say the shirt was derogatory and offensive.

“I have spent my career singing, writing and talking about the culture of Newfoundland, and while celebration is a big part of that culture, ‘Newfie Beer Removal’ is an idiotic way to describe it,” Hallett said when contacted by The Telegram. “Like so many other racial slurs, context is everything — if the group in question wishes to use it themselves, that is one thing. For a worldwide corporation to put it on a T-shirt is quite another.”

Walmart’s initial response on Twitter was that its stores weren’t selling the shirts at all. However they were still available for $10 at at least two St. John’s Walmart locations days later.

Walmart spokesman Alex Roberton said the social media response was due to an “internal miscommunication,” as not all stores carried the shirts.

“We can confirm that we carried the T-shirt in question at five of our Newfoundland stores,” said Roberton, senior director of corporate affairs for Walmart Canada. “The shirts were purchased from a local supplier as part of a broader assortment of St. Patrick’s Day items. However, as a result of feedback we have received from our customers, we have discontinued sale of the shirt.”

A spokeswoman for Pipers said the store would be in a position to comment on Wednesday. A call to Only Deals’ head office in Manitoba was not returned as of deadline.

Islandwide Distributors is a locally owned company that produces Newfoundland-themed souvenirs, including T-shirts, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, mugs and cards. The company has been supplying Walmart with souvenirs for about 10 years, and the “Newfie Beer Removal Service” shirt was created based on the requests of local customers, Coady explained.

“The St. Paddy’s Day T-shirt was designed by a Newfoundland artist (who), like the owners of Islandwide, has deep roots and pride being a Newfoundlander,” he wrote. “Islandwide had the T-shirt printed by a local Newfoundland company and Islandwide Distributors, as a vendor for Walmart, decided to put the T-shirts in their stores. We are very pleased that a large retailer like Walmart would support and sell product produced by a local Newfoundland company.”

Based on positive feedback it has received on similar designs in the past, Islandwide wasn’t anticipating any negativity about the “Newfie Beer Removal Service” T-shirt, Coady said.