Sometimes a chief executive must hope that an unwise quote from a while back would just curl up and die. Seven years ago, Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, gave a frank interview to Salon explaining what kind of customers he liked in his stores.
“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. A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Trouble began 13 days ago, when Business Insider ran a piece highlighting the A&F practice of only stocking smaller sizes for women’s clothing—excluding XL or XXL sizes—because they don’t want overweight women to be seen wearing their brand. The article recycled the quote from the Salon interview.
This time round the quote prompted a petition to stop telling teens they aren’t beautiful and to convince A&F to extend their range to plus-sized clothes—it has 20,000 signatures so far. On Monday, the writer and performer Greg Karber released a video on YouTube called “Fitch the Homeless”. It’s had 4m views. Karber asks viewers to donate their A&F clothing to local homeless shelters—a sure way of changing the brand’s image.
But not everyone is happy with this—the seven-year-quote has spawned a thousand others. One commenter below the video says, “Irony is that you are employing the exact same logic/ideology as Jeffries; just for different reasons.” Another says that using homeless people in the video is “demeaning and dehumanising”. But there’s also support for A&F from an unlikely source. An academic from California writes that people who depend on the exclusivity of their clothing to validate their existence are “morons”. He writes, “I applaud A&F for milking these jackasses for 50 bucks a T-shirt.”
Originally published in the Intelligent Life Magazine online, 16 May 2013