Mike Jeffries Abercrombie & Fitch: Why the Embattled CEO is Awesome

Mike Jeffries is awesome. There is no other way to describe a man who turned a sleepy, and recently bankrupt, retailer into a billion dollar behemoth. Jeffries is made even more fantastic by his quirks. His striking corporate headquarters, his youthful demeanor, and his wildly interesting life only add to his aura of mystique. I not only admire Jeffries for his business acumen and glamorous lifestyle, but also for taking unpopular stands. While Jeffries may be criticized for creating an “exclusionary” brand, I personally, and America as a whole, benefit from his willingness to call out the “uncool.”

Abercrombie & Fitch does not stock clothes for plus size shoppers. They deliberately sexualize their products and create a virtually unattainable standard for physical perfection. While some might find this marketing exploitative or even mean-spirited, I find it healthy and somehow American. Instead of all refusing to declare anyone a winner or a success, we should celebrate that some people are exceptional. While some people have incredible intellect or talent, some people are objectively gorgeous. Abercrombie celebrates the most beautiful physical qualities that youth has to offer. More importantly, Abercrombie models can serve more as a guideline than as a template.

Few of us can achieve the perfect looks of digitally doctored models, but we can all aspire to look fitter, cleaner, and, generally, better. While one may not find the exact Abercrombie look particularly appealing, the spirit of this look has an important message. That message is that a little bit of self-consciousness can be beneficial. If every chiseled model just sat around wallowing in self esteem, they would never advance beyond pale, flabby, mediocrity. Abercrombie tells us that we shouldn’t except “good enough.” We should strive to be better. We are worth a few minutes at the gym, a couple hours in the sun, some pretty clothes, and a couple spritzes of “fierce.” I doubt I will ever manage to look as together as an A&F model, but I like the lifestyle Jeffries is selling, and I have benefited enormously from striving for it. Leaving Ohio for the East Coast, my first year of college was characterized by dropping 40 pounds and caring more about my appearance. I didn’t feel “excluded” by Abercrombie, but inspired to be better.

Even more disgusting than attacks on Abercrombie and Fitch are personal attacks against Jeffries. Nonsensical critiques of his management style, public comments, and even plastic surgery, have abounded. Despite his quirks, Jeffries has done an amazing job saving a troubled company. Clearly his business methods work. While his wording may lack grace, his message is valid and worth hearing. And, while Jeffries may not be gracing the cover of an A&F magazine anytime soon, at 68 he looks better than many people generations younger. One wonders how many people calling Jeffries “creepy” would be delighted to be happily partnered with someone decades their junior. Jeffries has landed someone not only attractive, but with impressive business savvy. How many criticizing Jeffries looks will look better in their 60s? How many criticizing his plane use will ever be successful enough to have a company charter?

Mike Jeffries may not be the nicest person to walk the face of the earth, but he is brilliant and successful. We should celebrate him as a paradigm of American success rather than dragging his few flaws through the mud.

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