A&F supporting anti-bullying efforts and championing allies all sounds good until you review its track record … and the cognitive dissonance begins.
“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.” ~Mike Jeffries, CEO, Abercrombie and Fitch (2006)
“We are proud to champion this cause for the second year in a row, and look forward to seeing the Are you An Ally? program make a difference in schools and communities.” ~Mike Jeffries, CEO, Abercrombie & Fitch (2014)
I wish I could believe this is a story of redemption. Of an organization turning the corner and truly backing its words with its actions. Me … I’m not buying it.
On October 1, Abercrombie & Fitch announced that it is partnering with Lucy Hale of Pretty Little Liars fame in an effort to spread messages about anti-bullying and the power of upstanders (i.e. bystanders who don’t simply stand by). The company released a line of graphic t-shirts with statements like “Are You An Ally?” and “Real is the New Black” all in an effort to reinforce this message. Proceeds from sales of these shirts, along with a “round up” program where customers can round up their purchase to the next dollar as a donation, will all fund No Bully, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on solutions to bullying, harassment, and violence in schools.
All sounds pretty good. But then you look at Abercrombie’s history and it’s more than little disturbing and cause for cognitive dissonance. Like the 2002 discontinuation of a graphic tee that stated “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White” featuring smiling Asian figures in cone hats. Or, in the same year, the sale of thong underwear in sizes for pre-teen girls with phrases like “Eye Candy” printed on the front.
How about in 2005 when graphic tees for women stating, “Who Needs Brains When You’ve Got These?” and “I Had a Nightmare I Was a Brunette” needed to be pulled from the shelves?
Or perhaps the 2005 Consent Decree as settlement in the Gonzalez vs. Abercrombie & Fitch case relating to discriminatory hiring practices.
That doesn’t do it for you? Perhaps Abercrombie & Fitch’s 2010 “nomination” to the Sweatshop Hall of Shame by the International Labor Rights Organization will do the trick.
Abercrombie & Fitch has long been the clothing emblem of the elite. As a teen, I strove to wear the Abercrombie label as well, sucked in by the marketing of men with washboard abs flocked by beautiful women. It was what I wasn’t but longed to be. In fact, I still struggle to set aside a pair of fleece lined Abercrombie khakis (more for the comfort factor in the cold these days rather than for the name brand, but I digress).
I was a target often in my school career. Someone isolated for what he wore (or didn’t wear). My family did their best to clothe me, give me what I needed to be successful. It was my own insecurity and the labels placed upon me because I didn’t wear the right labels (like Abercrombie) that caused me on certain days to put on what my parents had purchased when I got onto the bus but pack a spare bag filled with alternative clothing to change into when I arrived at school. What I needed was an ally (and perhaps a slap upside the head).
I’m not suggesting Abercrombie & Fitch change its business model. They’re playing to a demographic, and that has worked for them. What I am suggesting, though, is for them to consider getting out of the anti-bullying movement unless practices begin aligning as well. It’s not good enough to simply throw money at the problem. From someone who spent much of his school life as a target, I can say that I’m keenly aware of the individual (or company) that can act civilly and kindly in public but harm in private. They’re called bullies.
Image credit: GrouperOnline/flickr