Abercrombie & Fitch has been embroiled in controversy since Business Insider re-published disturbing comments CEO Mike Jeffries made in a 2007 Salon article, including doozies like, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” and “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids…we go after the cool kids.”
In a society deeply engaged in anti-bullying discussions and efforts to make standards of beauty and “coolness” more inclusive, these comments ignited a widespread and fiery backlash, including a grassroots re-branding campaign and a Change.org petition.
The petition, started by 18-year-old Benjamin O’Keefe (who has himself overcome an eating disorder), garnered over 70,000 signatures and asked the company to stop sending the message that teens aren’t beautiful, demanding A&F start selling clothes larger than a size 10.
Here’s a graphic recently published in the Huffington Post, which shows the major hit Abercrombie & Fitch has taken over the past month. For the full effect, we recommend listening to this audio clip of a nosediving airplane while viewing the graph.
After a brief apology Jeffries recently posted on Facebook failed to turn the tide, the company invited O’Keefe and members of the National Eating Disorders Association to its headquarters in Columbus, OH last week to discuss their concerns with executives. After the meeting, A&F released this statement:
“We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion. We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values.”
While the meeting and apology demonstrate that Abercrombie & Fitch is willing to engage in productive dialogue about how it can send a less toxic message, we wonder whether anything short of a total re-branding — changing everything from the range of sizes its stores carry to the manner in which those clothes are advertized — will make a strong enough statement to earn the public’s forgiveness. While a complete top-to-bottom brand overhaul is virtually always highly risky, we aren’t sure the company can afford not to make some drastic and highly visible changes. What do you think, readers?