The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike Jeffries, caused quite a storm recently when his comments declaring the brand was only for thin, “cool and popular kids” came to light.
The quotes come from a 2006 interview with Salon, a news and entertainment website and were resurfaced by Business Insider in an article examining the company’s anti-fat attitude. Jeffries claims the quotes were taken out of context. So is this media manipulation or a genuine expose of Abercrombie’s discriminatory attitude?
Jeffries is reported as saying: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.”
Jeffries adds: “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
Let me tell you a bit about my own experiences with Abercrombie and Fitch. When I was in my early teens, I was a huge fan of Abercrombie and their sister brand, Hollister. I would spend hours trawling their website and, due to the high cost of the brand, eBay.
At the time I was a UK size 10-12. What does this equate to in Abercrombie world? Size Large. Yes, at an age where I was at my most vulnerable and impressionable, one of the biggest corporations in the world was telling me I was ‘large.’ If I’d have been one clothes size bigger I would have been too large to be “attractive” and “cool.”
It is not only women that Abercrombie are trying to mold into the ‘all-American kid.” While the brand only goes to ‘L’ in their female clothes, the men’s goes up to ‘XXL.’ The company expects women to be skinny and men to be stocky and athletic- both desirable looks but not realistic for the average consumer.
Abercrombie certainly remains true to its ideals in every aspect. If you do fit their size requirements and purchase something, their bags are adorned with poster-worthy beach hotties. The staff will also not disappoint looks-wise, only those of model material will be hired. They even have a ‘visual team’ who are employed to ensure staff comply with the brand’s image expectations at all times.
In fact, Abercrombie has been in controversy regarding its hiring practices on numerous occasions. A young female staff member with a prosthetic arm was removed from the shop floor for not conforming to ‘the look’ and another was fired for refusing to remove her hijab headscarf. These are only a few prime examples from the numerous lawsuits the company has been involved in due to discrimination.
Abercrombie really hasn’t been having a good time of it recently. Too bad. Since the recent media fall-out Jeffries has made an attempt of an apology for his comments.
“I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense. A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers,” Jeffries said. “However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. We hire good people who share these values. We are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behaviour based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics.“
Ultimately, all brands discriminate to an extent. Men won’t find anything for them in La Senza and not many of us can afford to wear Chanel and Prada. Anyone who is familiar with the world of Abercrombie will know that they have been aiming their designs at the skinny cool kids for years. Nonetheless, making an explicit statement of this fact is not ok.
If you wish to continue to pay extortionate prices for poor-quality, average clothing in order to be one of “the cool and popular kids” then go ahead. Otherwise, I recommend you try a different brand until Abercrombie and Fitch get their act together and bring themselves into the real world.