Rebranding: Abercrombie & Fitch (Snavely)

For about a month now, the internet has been atwitter about the discriminatory faux pas that Abercrombie and Fitch created back in 2006 when its CEO, Mike Jeffries, made a comment that suggested his store was exclusive to young, (presumably white) good-looking people. Wait, scratch that. It wasn’t just a suggestion. It was a flat-out confession.
It all started with an interview that Jeffries had back in 2006 with Salon.com. Jeffries let it slip that Abercrombie and Fitch only “markets to cool, good-looking people. [They] don’t market to anyone other than that.” Unsurprisingly, it’s outraged many people.
If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, just go to any mall and look for that one store that looks seedy, has some large billboard of washboard abs as its entrance, and smells like someone poured several bottles of cologne throughout the store. Inside, you’ll find everything you’re looking for, minus the XL or XXL sizes for women which is where all this controversy is coming from.
And I agree that it’s pretty messed up that this guy can refuse to market to those who don’t fit his label of “beauty,” especially when his idea of “beauty” is so unrealistic. But can we really say we’re surprised?
This IS the same company that would only allow white employees to work out in front while employees of other ethnicities worked stock in the back, the same one that printed a shirt that said “Two Wongs can make it White,” and the same company that primarily hires based on how good-looking you are.
It’s not the first time the company has found itself in this type of trouble, and it probably won’t be the last, especially given the fact that the company has yet to apologize for its CEO’s statements even after such backlash to this new outrage.
But that’s the thing — this isn’t technically a “new” outrage. The statement was made back in 2006 — about 7 years ago. And yet it’s barely receiving attention. It’s been made obvious that Jeffries still believes in his mantra, so his comments about who he wants wearing his clothes are still outrageous. But the fact that people are just now reacting to his statements actually irks me.
Why didn’t these people stand up against this 7 years ago? Or 6? Or 4? Why now of all times? Don’t get me wrong—I agree that these statements made by Jeffries are offensive and that the motto/idea that his store personifies is unhealthy for a number of reasons, and the store needs to be judged critically. However, the fact that this backlash has only now gained momentum, 7 years after the fact that these words were said, disturbs me.
Okay, okay, I’ll agree that 7 years ago (I was almost a freshmen in high school) the mindset was different. But was it really so different that absolutely no one would speak up or take issue with these statements? It’s not like people weren’t aware of the store’s offensive nature; there had been lawsuits and complaints filed by 2006 about employee discrimination based on race, the racially offensive t-shirts, and the risqué magazine. So why is it only now that people are taking up arms about it?
To me, it comes off as opportunistic. Here we are, the interview has just resurfaced, and suddenly people take a stand to show how ‘open-minded’ and ‘accepting’ they are of others, and act to reflect their gallantry. Take, for example, Greg Karber’s “Brand Readjustment” video, which has recently hit 7 million views. It focuses on taking Jeffries’ idea of who is allowed to wear Abercrombie clothing, and flips it on its head by giving the clothing to people on skid row. It’s charitable, it’s the good thing to do, it’s ironic in a sense and it’s done out of extremely benevolent good will. I don’t doubt any of that.
But I still find it offensive. The whole movement itself (not just Karber) FEELS dishonest because it’s come to the party so late. And I don’t mean to say that the people who are a part of this movement are dishonest at all. Again, I think that they all have the right idea in mind, and I enjoy the way they’re rallying against Jeffries. But the fact that this movement is 7 years late makes me want to grind my teeth and roll my eyes because it feels like hindsight. It feels like we’re looking back to the past, seeing something that we did wrong and trying to fix it. I agree that it’s something that needs fixing, and I agree that it’s better late than never, but darn — why did it take us 7 years to figure it out?

Alec Snavely is a third-year electrical engineering and English double major. He can be contacted at asnavely@uci.edu.