In recent days, a video by Greg Karber has gone viral in which he criticizes the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jeffries, for insensitive remarks and encourages people to donate Abercrombie & Fitch clothing to the homeless in retribution. His intent is to protest the fact that the company does not make plus sizes, only markets to attractive people ("the cool kids"), and burns damaged clothing instead of donating it to charity.
Mr. Karber clearly has good intentions with his #FitchTheHomeless campaign. He is arguing that defining beauty and coolness in such a narrow way is exclusionary and insulting to people who think differently. His intention is to say that all people are beautiful enough to wear this brand of clothing and, at the same time, to encourage people to donate clothing to the homeless. For many people this is the message they get from the video and it is spurring them to take action. That is a good thing.
However, for people experiencing homelessness and for people who are able to look at it from their perspective, the message is altogether different. The message is that homeless people are as unattractive and uncool as it gets. So much so that if we dress them up in one particular brand of clothing, that brand will be soiled and the company's sales may even take a hit. Think about it from the perspective of one of the many children or teenagers living in Skid Row. Would you want to wear Abercrombie & Fitch clothing knowing that it was given to you because someone thinks you are the opposite of Abercrombie & Fitch's market (privileged, attractive and cool)?
Homelessness is profoundly complicated. People experiencing homelessness are not all in the same situation for the same reason. There are the runaway youth, the families with children, the veterans, the abused, the disabled, the elderly, the mentally ill and yes -- the drug and alcohol addicted. Everyone has their own unique story for how they ended up homeless. They can't be grouped into one category and told what their needs are. They don't all fit into the same clothes.
If you were moved by Mr. Karber's video, by all means, boycott Abercrombie & Fitch. Hand out flyers. Protest outside of their stores. But if you want to help people experiencing homelessness, there are many other more useful ways than to spend time searching out one particular brand of clothing to donate. For starters, donate any and all brands of clothing (in all different sizes). Donate money, donate food, volunteer your time. Get to know some of the people in this unfortunate situation and give them the gift of trying to understand. I would invite both Mr. Jeffries and Mr. Karber to do so. It might change the way they think about giving to those less fortunate than themselves.
By: Matt Raab, Program Director for School on Wheels, Inc.