Abercrombie has work to do

OPINION

(Bloomberg file photo )
May 22, 2013|By Anthony Roberts, @antthewriter | For RedEye

You've probably heard by now the backlash over Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries' comments in which he openly admitted the brand's exclusionary marketing practices.

The recently publicized quotes about favoring thin, good-looking employees and customers, which originated from a 2006 interview with Salon, have prompted the public and celebs such as Ellen DeGeneres to speak out against the fashion brand.

In his interview, Jeffries boasted, "In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids."

Talk about a public relations nightmare. Yet as strange as it sounds, all is not lost for Abercrombie & Fitch.

While exclusionary practices may be ridiculous and offensive for all the obvious reasons, the philosophy certainly is not new. It's just that in Jeffries, we see a man in a position of power bold enough to publicly proclaim superiority—and in the process insult children.

Take a luxury brand such as Lamborghini, for example. The Italian automaker specifically targets the rich and famous, those who they feel not only can afford their product, but exemplify the core values of that brand. Would anyone be outraged if the CEO said the company didn't market to "the Honda Accord crowd." Why? Because it's common sense.

Brands always have a target audience, and in having a target audience, you have those who are inevitably left outside of that target.

That's not to say A&F is justified in excluding the so-called uncool kids; it's just an acknowledgment that of course that's what a company that doesn't sell women's clothes bigger than size 10 was doing. What's important now is to hold A&F responsible for Jeffries' remarks and promote change.

In an attempt at damage control, the company posted a message from Jeffries on Facebook last week that read, in part: "We care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion."

If that statement is to be believed, the first step toward inclusion—besides slapping a muzzle on Jeffries—would be to hire people who are outside of what an Abercrombie & Fitch employee traditionally looks like. In business, you're better off employing smart, savvy and resourceful people anyway, regardless of how they look.

Secondly, A&F should donate money to educational programs and charities that promote positive self-images for young people. While I don't think the brand actively tries to put down those outside its core demographic, the message still is clear.

And finally, make some clothes for the kids who aren't super skinny—not that they would buy them after hearing Jeffries' opinions.

Jeffries described A&F as an "aspirational brand," but unless it aspires to create a group of snobs who wall themselves off from others, it still has work to do.

Issues like this did not start with—nor will they end with—Abercrombie & Fitch. Ultimately, it is important that we as individuals define ourselves and not leave it up to the retailers. Now that's cool.

Anthony Roberts is a RedEye special contributor.

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