Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries is a real wanker. He’s come under fire lately for issuing a weak apology for some seriously inflammatory comments he made in 2006, which have now resurfaced and gone viral. His comments were about excluding people who do not fit the brand image.
Specifically, he makes no bones about saying that he only wants the good-looking, thin, and popular crowd wearing Abercrombie clothing. In his 2006 interview with Salon, Jeffries said, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids.”
He then goes on to say, “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive, all-American kids 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 ... 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.”
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Did he really just say that? Oh yes, he did. Yes, it is understood that branding is very important to clothing companies. They all target certain demographics and market accordingly. It’s about creating a look, an image. I get that. When I am shopping for myself, it is easy for me to identify the type of customer a label is trying to target, and sometimes it’s by way of its unspoken exclusionary tactics—sizing, price or style. I don’t shop at a store if the clothes don’t fit me well or if they’re charging $200 for a crewneck T-shirt. But the problem is that Abercrombie & Fitch’s target market is young people: teenagers who are trying to build confidence and a sense of self while figuring out what’s important and where they fit in. It’s the demographic within which bullying is a serious issue.
He wants his customers to feel good about excluding others, and he wants those excluded to wish they belonged.
Mr. Jeffries could have just let the style of clothing, sizing and sexy-time shopping bags do the branding. But no, he had to be an Abercrombie & Dick and make exclusionary, socially irresponsible comments, which equate being “cool” and being “the popular kid in school” with being skinny and good-looking. He is promoting all the awful, hurtful social pressures and behavior that teenage kids are constantly trying to escape. While we parents are trying to teach our children that beauty comes from within, that they should be kind and treat others with respect, this guy shouts, “Respect this!” and points to a hair-free, greased-up male model wearing a baby tee. He glorifies the superficial and cliquish mentality to a mostly teenage market. He wants his customers to feel good about excluding others, and he wants those excluded to wish they belonged. He’s nothing more than a big bully, hoping to recruit bullies-in-training.
And if these comments didn’t make you dislike him enough, let’s recall Jeffries’s obnoxious PR move of 2011 when he offered Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and the cast of Jersey Shore a large sum of money to stop wearing Abercrombie clothing. Those bodies, though they donned the requisite Abercrombie-approved-abs, were apparently too tan and not cool enough to pop an A&F collar and not tuck in their button-downs.
Jeffries has a weird idea of cool, anyway. How cool is it to wear puffy parkas open with no shirts underneath? Those shirtless guys at the front of the store may be well-bodied, but they confuse me. And isn’t the Abercrombie style played out already? How many different ways can we see a really tight plaid shirt or polo be worn with tousled hair? How can they be so exclusive when they’ve been rockin’ the same look since I was in college? Which was … only a long time ago in terms of fashion. And I don’t know about you, but for me, that song by that band LFO (Lyte Funky Ones???) only helped Abercrombie’s douche factor.
In my efforts to raise confident, smart and kind children, I vow to steer clear of companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, whose CEOs promote valuing physical appearance over spreading positivity and good. My children and I will support stores, companies and people in general which treat “cool” as being solid, happy people who are true to themselves and kind to others. They will understand that making money is never as important as being a good human being. And that it’s not the way you look, but the way you are to yourself and others that makes you truly cool.