Talent Management On Abercrombie & Fitch’s ‘Anti-Fat & Ugly’ Lawsuit

Talent Management can reveal that A&F is once again in hot water after comments on marketing to (and employing) ONLY “cool, good looking”…

Talent Management on latest A&F lawsuit
Talent Management on latest A&F lawsuit

Regular readers of the Talent Management blog may remember controversial comments from Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie & Fitch that had resurfaced earlier this year.

The eccentric CEO caused widespread offence by boldly admitting a conscious intention to exclude ‘average’ looking customers from his stores. Now the company is once again in hot water as a result and facing a discrimination lawsuit…

In an interview with Salon Jeffries declared: “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.

“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. 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.”

This is the position of a man who transformed this once struggling company into a billion dollar brand with his run of brow-raising business choices. Is he a marketing genius, or has his lucky streak just run out? Jeffries’ A&F marketing decisions include those to make thongs (printed with phrases like ‘Wink Wink’ and ‘Eye Candy’) for 10-year-old girls, and padded bikini tops for 7-year-olds.

When asked how he felt about the negative reaction to these particular products he stated: “That was a bunch of bullsh*t. People said we were cynical, that we were sexualising little girls. But you know what? I still think those are cute underwear for little girls. And I think anybody who gets on a bandwagon about thongs for little girls is crazy. Just crazy!

“There’s so much craziness about sex in this country. It’s nuts! I can see getting upset about letting your girl hang out with a bunch of old pervs, but why would you let your girl hang out with a bunch of old pervs?”

“I think that what we represent sexually is healthy. It’s playful. It’s not dark. It’s not degrading! And it’s not gay, and it’s not straight, and it’s not black, and it’s not white. It’s not about any labels. That would be cynical, and we’re not cynical! It’s all depicting this wonderful camaraderie, friendship, and playfulness that exists in this generation and, candidly, does not exist in the older generation.”

But despite always appearing to have the confidence of his convictions in the past, Jeffries has been forced to back-track on some of those ‘exclusionary’ comments following a flood of bad press. A recent statement issued by him on the A&F Facebook page read:

“I want to address some of my comments that have been circulating from a 2006 interview. While I believe that this 7-year-old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that caused offence.

“A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most speciality brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers. However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion.

“We hire good people who share these values. We are completely apposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterisations or other anti-social behaviour based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics.”

For many consumers who had found Jeffries’ earlier ‘exclusionary’ comments offensive, this statement was too little, too late and now the brand is in more hot water as France’s human rights watch dog launches a related investigation. Head of the watchdog, Dominique Baudis, has explained that, “Though physical appearance may legitimately be a key and determining professional factor for models, that’s not so for sales staff.”

This viewpoint suggests that A&F’s hiring policies are discriminatory and it looks like Jeffries will be facing another lawsuit by the end of the year.

Meanwhile a disgruntled consumer had this to say by way of confirmation that his above apology was considered empty by many:

“In my opinion, A&F CEO Mike Jeffries looks like his face is melting from all that plastic surgery. The fact that he plasters young male models all over his store adds to this creepiness factor.

“Just kidding, I am apposed to creepiness discrimination! See? I can be a bully too and then halfheartedly apologise for it.”

Do you think she has a point?