Don’t Fitch the Homeless
Abercrombie & Fitch refuses to make women’s clothes in XL and XXL sizes. Why? In the words of Abercrombie CEO Michael Jeffries:
“Candidly, we go after the cool kids. 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.” (Read a recent article about this here.)
Whoops. Of course, the company can target any demographic it wants to. No big deal. But that’s a pretty sleazy thing to say (Abercrombie’s overall image does nothing to soften the sleaze), and it’s caused a bit of an uproar. Jeffries actually made this statement in 2006, but his words have been passed around with greater intensity recently, and a backlash is forming.
A video recently came out in which USC graduate Greg Karper calls the world to rebrand Abercrombie’s clothes. In the video, he explains that many companies will donate their defective or unsold clothes to the poor, but Abercrombie burns them so as to preserve its cool-kid-only image.
Karper’s proposed rebrand involves gathering up Abercrombie clothes and giving them to the homeless. “Together,” he says, “we can make Abercrombie & Fitch the world’s number one brand of homeless apparel.”
I’ll be honest, I find the video hilarious and clever. And there’s a sense of poetic justice to the whole thing. But in reality, Karper’s idea is a pretty awful. On the one hand, he wants to give clothes to the homeless. So it sticks it to Abercrombie, and it also helps the poor. Okay.
But on the other hand, he’s advocating giving the clothes to the homeless because he wants to embarrass Abercrombie. In essence, Karper’s strategy validates Abercrombie’s assessment of the homeless: they’re gross. Abercrombie doesn’t want ugly people in its clothes? We’ll show them! We’ll clothe these nasty homeless people with their cool-kid-clothes.
Plus it’s one more way to further alienate the homeless. Let’s stand against this brand by getting homeless people to wear it! Rather than standing together with them, coming alongside them in their pain and alienation, this strategy uses them to poke fun at Abercrombie. And anytime you find yourself using people, you know you’ve taken a misstep somewhere.
It’s one thing to point out the sleazy nature of Jeffries’ statement. Or to choose to buy a different brand of clothes. But to manipulate a marginalized group of people in order to make your point is itself a bit, well, sleazy.