American clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch came under fire again today after an interview that Chief Executive Michael S. Jeffries had with Salon magazine in 2006 resurfaced and went viral this week. The interview that makes the “cool kids” reference was brought up in an open letter to The Huffington Post where a blogger described the reasons she wouldn’t let her daughters buy Abercrombie & Fitch clothes anymore.
In the 2006 interview Jeffries said, “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 in our clothes and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Jeffries went on to say, “…that clothiers who try to serve all potential customers are boring. 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.”
But the American retail clothier is no stranger to controversy and bad publicity. Since its re-establishment in 1988, Abercrombie & Fitch has faced numerous accusations regarding its employment practices, merchandise, and advertising campaigns which have been described as sexually explicit and racist.
In 2005 Abercrombie & Fitch agreed to pay $40 million as ordered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) to all African American, Asian, and Latino applicants who were discriminated against by the company. The applicants argued that the company expected them to work only in low-visibility jobs in the back of the store. The EEOC required A&F to provide equal opportunity to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender.
In November 2009, Abercrombie & Fitch was added to the “Sweatshop Hall of Shame 2010” by the worker advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum.
Even the company’s advertising drew fire from conservative and religious groups who urged a ban on their original American publication of A&F Quarterly, published from 1997 to 2003, for its sexually explicit nature.
Keeping with their introduction of inappropriate products in the clothing world; in 2002 the retailer sold a shirt that featured the slogan “Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make It White” with smiling figures in conical Asian hats, a depiction of early Chinese immigrants. The company discontinued the design and apologized after a boycott was started by an Asian American student group at Stanford University. That same year, Abercrombie Kids removed a line of thong underwear sold for girls in pre-teen children’s sizes after parents mounted nationwide storefront protests. The underwear included phrases like “Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink” printed on the front.
Complaints about the type of clothes, especially t-shirts, have been made since 2004. The first incident involved a shirt with the phrase, “It’s All Relative in West Virginia,” a jab at alleged incestuous relationships in rural America. West Virginia Governor Bob Wise spoke out against the company for depicting “an unfounded negative stereotype of West Virginia'” but the shirts were not removed.
The next storm in a t-shirt came about in 2009 with A&F’s Back-to-School 2009 collection of “humor tees.” One shirt featured “Show the twins” above a picture of a young woman with her blouse open to two men. Two other shirts stated “Female streaking encouraged” and “Female Students Wanted for Sexual Research”. The American Family Association disapproved of the influence of the “sex-as-recreation” lifestyle shirts and asked the brand to remove its “sexualized shirts” from display.
In November 2010 just to show that the company could offend the US’s English cousins; the Abercrombie & Fitch store in Southampton, England, prevented 18-year-old employee Harriet Phipps from wearing a Red Poppy, which is worn as part of the Armistice Day commemorations in the United Kingdom every November. Phipps was particularly upset as the commemorations also includes those in current active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, where both UK and US troops make up the bulk of coalition forces present and she has a personal friend serving. The official A&F reason for the refusal was reported to be that the poppy is not considered part of the corporate approved uniform, and is therefore prohibited.
So despite the recent “outrage” about Jeffries offensive remarks, it certainly appears that he has found a place for himself with the retailer that likes court clothing controversy.
By Michael Smith