In 2006, Salon ran an article on Michael Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, in which Jeffries spoke about his marketing strategy at A&F:
"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. 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."
Apparently, there weren't that many people excited about his comments in 2006 and they remained covered in digital dross until dusted off this month in an interview with an author named Robin Lewis. In early May, Business Insider ran an article titled "Abercrombie and Fitch Refuses to Make Clothes for Large Women," which included comments by Lewis, co-author of the book The New Rules of Retail, referencing the Jeffries 2006 Salon interview. Lewis was quoted as saying, "He doesn't want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people. He doesn't want his core customers to see people who aren't as hot as them wearing his clothing."
The 2006 Salon article provided such insights as, "the press-shy Jeffries rarely grants interviews" and "Jeffries alternates his grumpy defensiveness with moments of surprising candor, making him at times oddly endearing." Since the firestorm of controversy erupted at the beginning of the month, "endearing" is not a term I've heard used in reference to Jeffries or his remarks. Last Thursday Jeffries came out with the following statement: "While I believe this 7-year-old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that caused offense." The amount of qualifiers in that statement disqualifies it as an apology. A true apology goes something along the lines of "I'm sorry."
Jeffries probably will never give a mea culpa but a broader question is: Who is to blame for such an exclusionary marketing strategy? Jeffries' comments may be offensive but the strategy they're based on appears to have been extremely successful and on full display at every A&F store. For the past seven years, people have continued to flock to those stores, even though the largest size for women's jeans is a 10 and there are no XL or XXL sizes for women on the shelves. Who is to blame? In part, we are.
At least one person has had enough. He posted a YouTube video of himself giving away A&F clothing to the homeless in LA. He's trying to start a movement, encouraging people to donate any A&F clothing they may have to the homeless, in order to make Abercrombie and Fitch "the world's number one brand of homeless apparel."
That's certainly one way to show your displeasure. Another is to refuse to shop at A&F (which isn't quite so menacing if you're one of those people who couldn't fit into the clothes anyway). You can also shop at retailers with a more enlightened marketing strategy. H&M, another clothing retailer, for example, has introduced a plus-size model into its swimwear collection. Or, you could go to change.org and sign the petition against Jeffries.
When I went to change.org, I was struck by another petition on the site -- the one to tell Disney to stop changing the look of their latest princess, Merida, from a healthy, active adolescent into an image much more curvy and sexy. I thought to myself, when will this ever end? Then I realized -- this will end when we say it will.
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