"A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."
In an age when we are so acutely aware of bullying, body image issues, eating disorders, mental health problems, and the struggle to make it through the day by our already over-stressed adolescents, one company has taken the daily battle with self-esteem to a new level. They are, and admit to being, exclusionary when it comes to their shoppers.
In a 2006 interview with Salon.com, Abercrombe & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries made some very disturbing remarks that, up until very recently, were forgotten. When asked about his company, he said, “...we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” Following that sentiment, he added, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “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."
“Good-looking,” “cool,” “attractive,” and “popular” are key words Mr. Jeffries uses to describe his company and customer base, but he doesn't mean it in a “all people are beautiful” sort of way. These comments were more or less forgotten about since the original interview was published, but recently his sentiments were reprinted in a Business Insider article, sparking a backlash across the internet. This has led to Mr. Jeffries and his company being blasted on blogs, news sites, and their own Facebook page. For many, the complaint is a very specific issue: girls and women that wear over a size 10 need not try to shop there. They will find nothing that fits them.
Abercrombie & Fitch regard anything over size 10 for females to be plus sized, and anything labeled XL and up for women won't be found. However, they do carry XL-XXL for men. This information probably would have been forgotten if it hadn't been for the Business Insider resurrecting Abercrombie's policy on larger women's clothes. Their competitors don't share their sentiments. H&M offers up to size 16, and American Eagle offers up to 18. H&M recently used curvy, “plus-sized” model Jennie Runk in their beachwear collection. Although she is only a size 12, she has different body proportions than standard models. Although a healthy weight, she would technically be too “fat” to shop at Abercrombie. H&M's choice of using Ms. Runk offered a stark contrast to Abercrombie & Fitch's go skinny or go home attitude.
While the teenagers Abercrombie & Fitch market to may not yet see the problem with the policy, college age consumers and parents of teenagers with spending power have been constantly voicing their displeasure, vowing to boycott, saying they will remove Abercrombie's clothes from their children's closets, and that they will never spend another dime in their stores.
This isn't the first time Abercrombie has been in trouble for insensitivity. In 2002, they pulled a line of T-shirts from the market that were culturally offensive to Asian-Americans. These shirts featured cartoon Asian characters as mascots for made-up companies. In 2006, parents were up in arms when Abercrombie printed up girls' shirts with slogans like “I had a nightmare I was a brunette,” and “Who needs brains when you have these?”