Clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch is no stranger to controversy, particularly regarding both its blatant discriminatory practices in hiring and general treatment of its targeted consumer demographic. While some defend the company's antics as innocuous branding, it seems that A&F has stepped into uncharted territory recently as it has shifted from superficial looks-based shaming to full-on bigotry. This is the obvious next step if you really think about it.
U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled this week that firing of a Muslim employee for wearing a hijab was wrong. Abercrombie's defense was that the hijab violated the company's personnel dress code policy aka its "Look Book," which could cause customer confusion. While the store has gone too far , this form of discrimination follows the company's consistent use of questionable practices in the name of branding. Moreover, it highlights the dangerous precedent set by looks-based marketing practices that pervade American consumer culture.
Abercrombie's agressive promotion of its "look" is easily traced to the company's CEO Mike Jeffries. Jeffries first made headlines for his inappropriate statements about who he wants wearing his clothes: cool kids, good looking kids, the kind of kids all the other kids want to be. Aside from the fact that Jeffries is trying to remedy some of his own childhood ills, that he verbalized what most companies try to do much more inconspicuously. All clothing retailers are selling a look or idea as much as they are overpriced pieces of fabric sewn together. There is always something to be said about the danger lurking behind seemingly innocent advertising, there is something more dangerous about a man who comes out and says it.
While many companies shamelessly market to a specific group, most stop short actively excluding those who fit the bill. They don't care about making everyone feel welcome. Rather, they want those who fit the look to buy it, and those who don't fit the look, to buy it too. Capitalism trumps image all over America, but Jeffries takes a different approach. In calling his brand "exclusionary," he chose to alienate consumers and create the consumerist version of bullying: "I have enough friends I don't need you. Because you're fat."
As with every dark cloud hanging over our cultural landscape, there is a silver lining, and a good one at that. When you tell people not to buy your clothes, they take your advice. Jeffries has driven the company's revenue is down, and it seems he could potentially be replaced next year. While that would do little to repair the company's image in the eyes of the careful consumer, it would do a great deal to show Mike Jeffries where he stands with the cool kids.