LOUIS — Abercrombie & Fitch Co. seems to have
learned a valuable lesson, but not until its profits
brand has cashed in on controversy for decades, and the
company’s chief executive, Mike Jeffries, infamously
courted detractors in 2006 by saying that he only wanted
attractive kids to wear his clothes. Plenty of brands
court an image of youth, beauty and country club
athletics, but Jeffries felt comfortable enough to say
"fat" kids weren’t cool, and he didn’t
want them as customers.
brand doesn’t offer XL or XXL women’s clothing or
pants over a size 10 for women. However, the brand does
offer XL and XXL clothing for men because Abercrombie
& Fitch has said that it wanted to provide sizes for
jocks but assumed that female athletes wouldn’t be
larger than a standard large. For years, people grumbled
but nothing changed.
expert and author Roger Dooley, who writes for
Forbes.com, didn’t think the brand would ever have to
change. "Every time a critic trumpets, ‘Mike
Jeffries is terrible for not wanting overweight or
unattractive people in his stores,’ they are
propagating the exact branding message he’s trying to
promote. Will A&F lose a few customers because of
their obnoxious CEO and corporate ethos? Probably. But
it will be no surprise if they end up adding new
customers and increasing sales even as the controversy
rages," Dooley wrote in an article titled,
"The Perverse Brilliance of Abercrombie & Fitch’s
CEO." This was published in May.
previous years, Abercrombie & Fitch’s hiring
practices were called into question, staff diversity was
criticized, complaints of sexism were issued,
advertisements were labeled offensive and yet the brand
rebounded. The simple preppy clothing styles that
focused largely on new ways to display the company’s
brand name remained popular. Then something changed.
a number of cultural reasons, being inclusive is more
fashionable than ever. Anti-bullying campaigns and memes
abound, and people are keenly aware that it’s not OK
to put other people down in order to build yourself up.
was seven years ago when Jeffries told Salon: "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?
was 61 years old then and the company remained wildly
profitable. Times changed. Earlier this year the
comments resurfaced and people finally objected in
now 69, issued a backhanded I’m-sorry-if-anyone-found-that-offensive
apology. The company later issued a stronger apology and
has decided to actually make some changes.
in spring it will carry extended women’s sizes.
for nothing, but H&M, one of the coolest retail kids
on the block, offers extended sizes for women and even
has a maternity line. A recent wildly popular H&M
swimwear campaign featured a plus-size model (Jennie
Runk of Chesterfield, Mo.)
change at Abercrombie & Finch seems to have taken a
long time because it has. The company is currently being
described as "struggling,"
"troubled" and "desperate."
reported that "the company’s shares closed down
14 percent at $33.13 last week after the company
reported its seventh quarterly fall in same-store sales
in a row and warned of a tough holiday season."
Shares in the company’s stock lost about 30 percent of
its value this year. Abercrombie & Fitch is perhaps
finally being viewed by the "uncool" label it
used to exclude others.
O’Keefe of Orlando, Fla., a survivor of a teenage
eating-disorder, took a group from the National Eating
Disorder Association to Abercrombie & Fitch’s
headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this year. He
started a petition on Change.org that now has more than
responded with a statement, "We look forward to
continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to
demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition
to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion. We
want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize
for any offense caused by comments we have made in the
past, which are contrary to these values."
from O’Keefe’s heartfelt campaign, humorous attempts
were made to shame the company into decency as well.
YouTube video by a self-described "cultural
critic" Greg Karber has been viewed nearly 8
million times. He promotes consumer justice in his video
"Abercrombie & Fitch Gets a Brand Readjustment
#FitchTheHomeless." The video documents Karber’s
quest to make Abercrombie & Fitch "The World’s
Number One Brand of Homeless Apparel" by
redistributing thrift store and donated items. He
encourages others to do the same and post photos on
social media with the hashtag #fitchthehomeless.
his humor has also been controversial, and he conceded
that after all the bad press about the company, he was
worried homeless people would refuse the clothes because
they wouldn’t want to be perceived as jerks.