Environmentalists and Reverend Billy defend Canadian Boreal Forest against Victoria's Secret, 2004-2006

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Since 2004, the advocacy group ForestEthics created the campaign "VIctoria's Dirty Secret's." For two years, over 200 demonstrations took place until its peak in 2006.
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
New York City
Location Description: 
A tent outside of Seaport Mall
To stop Victoria's Secret from using the Canadian Boreal Forest for their catalogue production.

In March of 2004, six of the largest catalogers in North America were put on notice for their consumption of endangered forests. Since then, ForestEthics, a nonprofit environmental group committed to protecting North America's forests, has been in detailed discussion with all of these companies and others who are competing to address these environmental issues.

At issue throughout the discussions at the time was the impact of Victoria’s Secret’s catalog production on Canada’s Great Boreal Forest, which contains 25% of the intact forest remaining in the world. Victoria’s catalogues are churned out at a rate of a million a day using primarily virgin timber clear-cut from Canada’s Boreal forest. Victoria’s Secret products cause global warming as they mail more than one million catalogues a day containing little to no recycled content, and are made from paper that comes from the world’s last remaining endangered forests.

These forests also provide critical habitat for many species, including endangered caribou and half of North America’s songbirds. Currently, the Boreal is being logged at a rate of two acres per minute, 24 hours a day, and paper production accounts for nearly 50% of that logging.

Since 2003, ForestEthics has been educating the catalog industry about its negative environmental impact on the Canadian Boreal forest. However, It wasn’t until 2004 that they launched a campaign against Limited Brands and Victoria’s Secret and shortly after began discussions with the company. For two consistent years, there were more than 200 demonstrations across the country in support of ForestEthics’ work. Some of these demonstrations received press coverage including in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Today Shows. They also sparked further daily protests, and thousands of visitors to the campaign's website, VictoriasDirtySecret.net.

In 2006 Reverend Billy, the stage name of activist performer Billy Talen, and his ‘Stop Shopping choir’ joined the campaign. This addition gained increased attention across the country to the issue.

In July 2006, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping choir were invited to do a series of summer shows inside the newly erected Speigeltent, a traveling pavilion built in Belgium in the 1920’s. At the time, the tent pavilion was in New York. For Billy, the Spiegeltent lined with velvet, teak, and beveled mirrors was a tempting venue. It stood beside the Seaport shopping center. Within this shopping center lay a branch of Victoria’s Secret. Billy saw the invitation of the summer shows inside the Speigletent as an opportunity to assist the ForestEthics campaign against Victoria’s Secret.

On 2 August 2006 Reverend Billy sent out a mass number of emails and press releases announcing plans to parade through the Seaport Shopping Centre preaching the sins of Victoria’s Secret catalogues. The New York Police Department heard about Reverend Billy’s scheme and contacted security officers at the mall, who banned Billy and the choir from performing inside the mall itself.

However this didn’t stop Billy. At the Church’s debut show on 6 August, mall representatives discovered that Reverend Billy and his choir were encouraging audience members to sneak postcards about the clear-cutting campaign into the panty stacks of the Seaport Victoria’s Secret Store. Billy had also planned to have lingerie-clad drag queens bearing cardboard chainsaws walk around the mall. Billy was warned to stop his plan. At this point Reverend Billy considered canceling the plan, but with the support of the choir he continued.

A week later, they created the “Victoria’s Dirty Secrets Tent Revival” agreeing to confine their preaching to the tent itself. Eventually a crowd gathered inside the Spiegeltent as Billy preached about the sins of Victoria’s Secret. The choir then stripped down to bra and panty sets and Reverend Billy invited everyone to march uptown for an unplanned cash register “exorcism” at Victoria’s Secret Soho shop, on Broadway and Prince.

Once they arrived at the store, they invaded the store that was jam packed with shoppers. Reverend Billy and the choir then retreated and took over a lane of traffic to preach and sing. Eventually the police pushed everyone out of the street.

Although Reverend Billy was only one of many who added a small step in raising some attention to stop Victoria’s Secret from clear-cutting, he passionately and uniquely offered a glimpse into the variety of demonstrations that aided ForestEthics at the time.

Later in 2006, Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, revealed a new forest protection policy and a new contract for their catalogs. The policy included several landmark environmental measures and ensured that the pulp for the company’s catalog paper would not come from Endangered Forests.

In 2007 Limited Brands partnered with its paper supplier to eliminate all pulp supplied from the Boreal Forest and British Columbian Inland Temperate Rainforest. There has also been an overall catalog paper reduction, as well as a commitment to phase out of endangered forests. The company also committed one million dollars to research and advocacy to protect endangered forests and ensure leadership.

Research Notes
Gilmore, L. (2008). "Change-a-lujah!": destabilizing normative religion with Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir. Council Of Societies For The Study Of Religion Bulletin, 37(1), 7-10.

Lane, Kill. Reverend Billy: Preaching, Protest and Postindustrial Planerie. MIT Press Vol 46. No1. (Spring 2002), pp 60-84.

Hindley, Jane(2010) 'Breaking the Consumerist Trance: The Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping', Capitalism Nature Socialism, 21: 4, 118 — 126

Ferguson, Sarah . "Rev. Billy Tells Victoria's Dirty Secrets." The Voice [New York] 14 Aug. 2006, sec. In the Streets: 14-16. Print.

Talen, Bill. "About Us | Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping." Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2013. <http://www.revbilly.com/about-us>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Clare Schellenberg, 1/1/2013