Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries angered customers and possible customers with size discriminatory statements and beliefs that larger people, especially women, should not wear his brand. A recent Business Insider story reignited the controversy.
Apparently, the brand is marketed toward “cool kids.” Yes, good-and-grown people perpetuate this notion. The Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) CEO “doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing.”
In 2006, Jeffries told Salon.com, “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.”
Retail expert Robin Lewis told Business Insider, “He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store. He wants thin and beautiful people.”
The brand stops at a size 10 for women, but carries large sizes for men. This decision exists despite the fact that about half of American women wear around a size 14. The average American woman is about 5’3 and weighs 166 pounds, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If “plus” sized is increasingly average sized in the U.S., then excluding normal people from shopping at a major store seems counterintuitive or bad for business. Instead, a brand known to appeal to a “classic” American surfer and preppy style erred on the side of glorifying its customers, rather than widening the potential pool of spenders.
These comments about conventional attractiveness and consumer worth have not gone ignored. In an open letter for the Huffington Post, Amy Taylor criticized the CEO’s perspectives and discussed the everyday Americans being excluded. She wrote, “Pretend, for one moment, that instead of fat chicks, unattractive people or ‘not-so-cool’ kids Mr. Jeffries had said ‘African Americans’ or ‘homosexuals’ or ‘single moms.’ As a society, we would rise up and crucify any brand that flaunted that kind of exclusionary business plan.”
Oh, but A&F bandaged exclusionary and discriminatory wounds not too long ago. In 2004, the company agreed to pay a $40 million settlement to black, Latino and Asian employees and job applicants for a class-action federal discrimination lawsuit. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission joined the lawsuit, in which it was alleged that the company violated sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The company was accused of promoting whites over employees of color and disparate treatment based on race.
So, while consumer dissatisfaction is expected for Jeffries’ narrow-minded sentiments, the company’s record for dealing with differences is not sterling. Yet if “plus sized”, brown skinned, awkward and otherwise marginalized people skip A&F’s teenybopper, hyper-sexualized, cologne doused stores and exorbitant prices, for more inclusive competitors, A&F will take note.
Regardless of one’s culture or coolness, dollars spend the same. The company is entitled to market to its presumed niche; however, consumer purse strings and pockets keep the real power.