Mike Jeffries, CEO of the apparel brand Abercrombie and Fitch, may have contracted a case of cacomorphobia; the fear of fat people. He doesn’t want them as customers in his stores, as he proved in a recent conversation with retail expert Robin Lewis.
“He (Jeffries) doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people,” Lewis told Business Insider. “He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the cool kids.”
I decided it would be beneficial to check out the A&F experience at the store level to see if the strategy is, in fact, working. What’s an Abercrombie and Fitch experience like? After passing two nearly-naked live models and risking asphyxiation from perfume, you will find yourself standing in the middle of seductive and provocative images featuring exclusively “good-looking” people.
Only individuals that fit A&F’s cookie-cutter mold of beauty can wear the brand; the size range makes sure of that. Abercrombie doesn’t carry sizes bigger than extra large for women and, per Robin Lewis of Business Insider, only does so in the men’s category to cater to strong athletes that have a larger muscular structure. The biggest jean size at Abercrombie is a size ten, while similar retailers such as H&M and Forever21 offer up to size 16 and American Eagle even offers up to 18. Since when does size constitute beauty?
Even more infuriating is that this sizing structure is not based on the fact that larger sizes don’t sell, but rather is a brand decision. Abercrombie doesn’t want certain people to be wearing their clothing and makes it impossible for them to do so.
Jeffries told Salon in a 2006 interview, “Looking good is almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
However, Jeffries doesn’t stop there. When asked about his feelings toward excluding those that don’t fit his exact body-type ideal, he told Salon:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-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. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
Los Angeles-based writer Greg Karber decided to protest against A&F’s discrimination by purchasing the brand’s clothing from a thrift store and handing it out to the homeless. It’s a trend that is catching on and even sparked a Twitter trend, with the phrase #fitchthehomeless. The Huffington post reported that Karber wants to make Abercrombie the “world’s number one brand of homeless apparel.”
Although there are those that will speak against the cruel words and tactics of Abercrombie, others will continue to follow. Regrettably, along with sparking unrest among those that don’t fit his definition of beauty, Jeffries is forming a stronger brand loyalty with his current customer.
It’s human nature to have a desire to fit in and be wanted; to be part of the group. This marketing strategy, although malicious and hateful, constructs an “it” group that some people want to be part of.
That said, I plead that you consider this the next time you’re out shopping and pass an Abercrombie store. Throwing away all the A&F clothes you’ve ever bought is a bit extreme, but making the decision to not support these manipulative marketing strategies and not buy anymore in the future can really make a difference.
Nicole Soyka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.