If you hear the name “Abercrombie & Fitch” or walk past the aromatic store at the mall, what comes to mind? With me, it’s always been disgust. I mean, who hasn’t heard the controversies including allegations of discrimination, sexualized teens in ad campaigns, and promoting an elitist attitude on the basis of looks or social status. Human dignity is under fire with this company! Can you believe that “attractiveness” is a hiring requirement? No joke!
Founded in 1892 in Manhattan by David T. Abercrombie and Ezra Fitch; Abercrombie & Fitch was originally a retailer of fishing rods, fishing boats, camping gear, and tents.
Despite the high-end Hillbilly origins, the Abercrombie & Fitch brand image is heavily promoted as an international near-luxury lifestyle concept according the company’s own admission. The company began inspiring an upscale image after the 2005 opening of its Fifth Avenue flagship store alongside Prada and other upscale retailers. The company coined the phrase “casual luxury.”
Here’s what we know:
- The company was found guilty of discriminating against African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and women by preferentially offering floor sales positions and store management positions to Caucasian males.
- Been accused of promoting the sexualization of pre-teen girls, for example by marketing thongs to 10-year-olds and padded bikini tops to 7-year-olds.
- In 2013, an interview with the CEO, Mike Jeffries went viral when he stated that his brand is only suitable for “the good-looking, cool kids” and that there are people who don’t belong in his clothes – namely overweight people.
- (Tulsa Ties) In a lawsuit filed; 17-year-old Samantha Elauf said she applied for a sales position at the Abercrombie Kids store in the Woodland Hills Mall, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The teen, who wears a hijab in accordance with her religious beliefs, claims the manager told her the headscarf violates the store’s “Look” policy.
- A British law student, who was born without a left forearm worked at the company’s flagship store in London’s Savile Row. She took A & F to court and claimed that although she was initially given special permission to wear clothing that covered her prosthetic limb, she was soon told that her appearance breached the company’s “Look” policy and sent to work in the stock room, out of sight of customers.
- “It’s All Relative in West Virginia.”
- “L is for Loser” (next to a picture of a male gymnast)
- “Who needs brains when you have these?”
- “I had a nightmare I was a brunette”
- “Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make It White”
But what about the soft materials used in production? The exceptional craftsmanship? With two teen daughters, I have found myself wandering around the store as of late. In a recent visit; I decided to hang around the clearance rack. I purchased a $14 sweatshirt. This isn’t just any sweatshirt…it’s a luxury sweatshirt (oxymoron?) by any standard. With its 100% pima cotton….I’ve been wearing this top every weekend! Honestly, nothing I have compares to the comfort, and of course, the style including the hipster NY skyline isn’t so bad either!
Is this guilty pleasure worth supporting—by way of buying— the nasty things that A & F have been accused of?
The company has made changes… good ones…especially in their hiring practices, but is it too little, too late? I think it might be. There is a new class action suit of more than 62,000 employees of Abercrombie & Fitch who are claiming that they were forced to buy A & F clothes to wear on the job as a uniform. Personally, that seems reasonable. As with a lot of companies in our country’s history where one suit leads to another leads to another (with plenty of attorneys ready to oblige), could it be that A & F are now victims of greed and exploitation? Big industries such as for profit education, health care, restaurants, mortgage companies can all relate to this and often for certain companies, the harm is too difficult to overcome.
Do you shop at Abercrombie and Fitch? Does their negative PR affect your purchasing behavior?
What does a company’s culture mean to you?