Abercrombie and Fitch, the US clothing retailer known for its preppy casualwear and toned sales staff, has always prided itself on being an exclusive brand, but it is currently alienating so many people, it will soon be a small wonder if it has any customers left.
The last month alone has seen the company accused of being sizeist, elitist and ableist. And, while most of the incidents are taking place across the pond, the backlash is spreading across the internet, meaning it may be only a matter of time before it affects business in UK branches.
First came comments from Robin Lewis, co-author of The New Rules of Retail, who told Business Insider that Abercrombie’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, “doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people”. Indeed, while the chain provides men’s clothes in XL and XXL (to appeal to beefed-up young sportsmen), they fail to make or sell womenswear in any size above large.
The interview dragged up outlandish quotes that Jeffries gave in a 2006 piece in Slate, including: “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” The resurfacing of such comments inspired demonstrations outside an Abercrombie store in Chicago, while 18-year-old Benjamin O’Keefe created an online petition calling for a boycott of the store. It currently has more than 20,000 signatures. Jeffries has since released a statement suggesting his comments were taken out of context.
Then, last week, writer Greg Karber launched a campaign urging people to donate Abercrombie clothes to the homeless, to counter the ideal sold by A&F. In a YouTube clip that has been viewed six million times in less than a week, Karber hands out Abercrombie apparel to homeless people on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Which is also a bit offensive, if you think about it, but Karber’s heart is in the right place.
Meanwhile, a Denver-based federal judge ruled last week that the entrances to hundreds of Hollister stores (the teen-focused brand of Abercrombie) violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and, despite ordering Abercrombie to work with disability rights advocates, the two sides failed to come to an agreement.
Whether Abercrombie’s behaviour affects sales at the $4bn company remains to be seen. But you can bet its public relations department is currently working overtime.