I was on Twitter this morning and read this tweet from Alex Veronelli, the Product Manager and Public Relations specialist for the Italian thread company, Aurifil.
I tweeted back, suggesting that this felt to me like an unprofessional thing to say on social media, given his role in the company. Veronelli replied, “On socials I prefer to be genuine, exposing outright all my defects & vices, rather than to be settled and look forcedly professional.”
I replied that given Aurifil’s predominantly female audience this remark still seemed unkind to me. Veronelli wrote back, saying “You’re right, but luckily by this time my readers are pretty vaccinated to my racy and witty posts.” Still, I’m not sure I feel the tweet was witty at all.
My back and forth with Veronelli on Twitter seemed to open up a floodgate of feeling about him among sewists and quilters online. In minutes, dozens of women began messaging me and emailing me with complaints about Veronelli’s behavior. Virginia Johnson, owner of the quilt shop, Gather Here, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shared this tweet of Veronelli’s with me. She said, “This one was when I told the Robert Kaufman rep I wouldn’t stock the Carolyn Friedlander Aurifil collection. I’m a married, female small business owner who isn’t giving money to a sexist.”
Designer, photographer, and craft book author, Caro Sheridan sent me a series of tweets from Alex that bothered her. Here are just a few:
“I honestly don’t understand how in an industry where most of the customers are women how this behavior stands,” Caro said. “It is gross. And sexist.”
Alex Veronelli is not only the Product Manager and Public Relations specialist for Aurifil, he is also one of Aurifil’s shareholders. His father, Adolpho Veronelli, co-founded Aurifil in 1983 and Alex Veronelli has worked for the compay since 1990. In 2007, Veronelli helped establish Aurifil USA, based in Illinois, in an effort to gain a foothold in the U.S. market for quilting threads. Aurifil threads are now very popular among quilt designers and sewing bloggers. Many top fabric designers have come out with thread collections with Aurifil, choosing quilting threads that match the colors in their fabric lines.
Quilts Inc., the tradeshow company that puts on Quilt Market each fall and spring, interviewed Veronelli for their eNewsletter, describing him this way, “The charming, exceedingly Italian Veronelli, who has built an impressive online presence that gives a real face (and, many women would attest, not a bad looking one at that!) to the Aurifil brand.”
When asked about his popularity on social media, Veronelli told them, “You have also to consider that I am bad Italian boy that parachuted down in the quilt world, as you well know [laughs]. And the quilt world is lacking of bad Italian boys, so this made it easier for me to stand out from the crowd and be easily remembered and recognized.”
In November of 2013, as way to celebrate Aurifil’s 30th birthday, the company decided to jump on the “HeyGirl” internet meme that originally involved putting loving captions on photos of Ryan Gosling. They released a series of photos of Veronelli, inviting quilters and sewists to create HeyGirl captions to be entered into a contest. Veronelli seemed to relish in the attention. He has collected the #HeyGirl images on one of his own Pinterest boards for easy perusing. Here area few:
Veronelli is also active on Instagram where he posts pictures of himself traveling to quilt shops and shows around the country. Search his hashtag #aurigirl and you’ll uncover dozens of photos of Veronelli with female designers on his lap. You’re free to view them on Instagram by searching for the #aurigirl hashtag. (Note that I had previously posted a collage of photos from the hashtag here in the post, but have been asked by one of the women pictured to please remove them, which I promptly did.)
When I confronted Veronelli about these photos, saying that I felt it was inappropriate to ask an employee or co-worker to sit on your lap, he responded, “I agree. In fact, I would never ask something like that to an employee. None of them is an employee of mine.” True, none of the women pictured here or hashtagged as an #aurigirl on Instagram is a direct employee of Aurifil, but many have thread collections with the company, use Aurifil threads in their quilts, and promote the company on their blogs. I can’t speak for them, but I know if he asked me to sit on his lap I would feel obligated to do so while also very awkward about the request.
I personally don’t want to stand behind a company that chooses to represent itself this way. To me, it feels sexualized and misogynistic. I realize that there may be a European cultural norm at work here that I don’t understand, but nonetheless Alex Veronelli’s behavior makes me personally uncomfortable.
+July 26 8:00 am EST: A few things have happened. First, a designer who participated in the #aurigirl campaign and sat on Alex Veronelli’s lap emailed me and said she did “feel an obligation to sit on his lap and take a photo.” Several others have emailed me about their personal discomfort, but said because they actively do business with the company they don’t want to say anything publicly for fear of making people there angry.
Another designer who also sat on Alex’s lap emailed me to ask that I remove any mention of the #aurigirl hashtag from this post. She felt that “even mentioning the #aurigirls hashtag could be read as ‘shame on these women.'” I am not going to remove mention of the hashtag because it has played an important role in my view of Alex Veronelli’s online behavior, and I certainly hope nobody who sees the photos thinks, “shame on these women.” That sort of thinking is blaming the victim and is not acceptable to me.
And finally, as I mentioned in the post, I had originally included a collage of photos of designers sitting on Alex’s lap. I removed them at the request of one of those designers. I would like to replace it with at least one of the #aurigirl photos. If you’ve had your picture taken in Alex’s lap as part of that campaign and would be willing to have it reposted here, please get in touch. Thank you.+
++July 28 12:20 pm EST: All images of designers sitting in Alex Veronelli’s lap were removed from Alex Veronelli’s and Kim Niedzwiecki’s Instagram feeds overnight. Searching the #aurigirl hashtag will now only bring you images of designers sitting on Alex’s lap that they’ve posted themselves. Alex has also deleted all of the most recent offensive jokes from his Twitter feed. I feel like there’s been progress.++
+++August 6 7:00 am EST: I just received an email from Elena Gregotti, the CEO of Aurifil USA telling me that Alex has issued an official response via Facebook. If you have comments or thoughts to share with Alex this is an opportunity to do so directly.+++