‘Insensitive’ Ebola merchandise booms


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It has now been several months since we have had a single day without hearing about Ebola from one news outlet or another, in the middle of a dinner conversation or from an obnoxious conspiracy theorist on Facebook.

All the attention has veered toward the virus, and whether the outbreak is the doom of humanity or simply something to keep an eye on. The media exposure regarding the issue has been thorough, if not excessive.

Regardless, this degree of attention and coverage world-wide, on top of giving The Daily Show and the Colbert Report a near infinite amount of material for comedy, opens the door for controversy, early dark humor and, as always, opportunity to make money.

Combine the latter two with the Ebola outbreak situation, and one gets the hottest commercial trend on the Internet today: Ebola-based merchandise.

From mugs, bumper stickers, neckties, other fashion accessories or the ever-so popular Ebola stuffed toy that sold out after a few weeks, Ebola merchandise is booming on the Internet.

But the most profitable business to come out of this trend is the sale of hazardous material suits, with websites such as Ebolasuits.com that sell suits and accessories meant to protect people from catching the virus. Their “Ultimate Combo” contains an original Ebola suit, a deluxe face mask and a pair of rough grip gloves. It sells for close to $90.

Some students at The University of Southern Mississippi described the online merchandising trend as “offensive” and “insensitive.”

“My first reaction was not so much to find it offensive,” said Carli Still, a recent USM graduate. “But I could see how it can be so for someone else. My main reaction is to ask, why? Why would anyone want this stuff?”

The fact of the matter is, people do want it. It has been a very profitable business for Drew Pearson, owner of Destin, Florida-based Ebola Suits LLC, which owns Ebolasuits.com, and saw his website’s sales double in a matter of weeks.

The business benefits from both its claim to provide legitimate protection in case of local outbreaks, but also from the coming of Halloween season, during which yellow hazard suits are expected to pop up here and there, whether they may be considered of bad taste or not.

“We’ll probably just ride this thing until the wheels fall off,” Pearson told USA Today. “If the orders stop coming in tomorrow, that’s okay. This is a business and we’ve made our money.”