Abercrombie Didn’t Invent Evil. They Packaged It.

Abercrombie Didn’t Invent Evil. They Packaged It.

Featured Image: Sarah Uslan for Abercrombie & Fitch | WeAreTheRhoads

Abercrombie was not the typical workplace — it sold sex appeal to teenagers with bare-chested guys in dark nightclub-esque stores in All-American clothing. Customers were met with young, attractive collegians in low-cut jeans and open flannels. In today’s climate, with documentaries about major moments such as Von Dutch, Britney Spears, and most recently, Anna Delvey — it was a matter of time before the media turned to the case of Abercrombie & Fitch and their discriminatory practices.

Netflix’s White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch follows the success of the brand and its ultimate downfall in the late 2000s. As Netflix describes it, “They didn’t invent evil. They didn’t invent class. They just packaged it.” 

The summary, as written by Netflix, reads: “Abercrombie & Fitch conquered malls in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s with gorgeous models, pulsing dance beats, and a fierce scent. But while the brand was running white-hot, its popular ‘all-American’ image began burning out as controversy came to light surrounding its exclusionary marketing and discriminatory hiring.” 

It highlights a 2006 interview with Salon in which Jeffries, former CEO of A&F  is concerned with the idea of elitism. “America’s unattractive, overweight, or otherwise undesirable teens can shop elsewhere. In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “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. 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.” 

The documentary features Robin Givhan, Washington Post senior critic at large, who discusses the sex appeal aspect— “One of the earliest brands to really merge youth culture and sex appeal was really Calvin Klein. What Abercrombie did was they made this middle ground between the sex that Calvin Klein was selling and the all-American preppiness that Ralph Lauren was selling. Just [aspirational] enough but not so expensive that it was out of reach.” 

Abercrombie maintained strict recruiting rules that very clearly defined what it meant to be ‘good-looking’. Soon after that came consumer backlash and discrimination complaints. There was the case of caricatures of Asian men and then all of the other racial implications that would follow. 

The New York Post reported on Jennifer Sheahan, an Asian American woman who worked in a California store — ”[He] said, ‘The real reason is because after the corporate blitz, one of the people from corporate went around and noticed a bunch of Asian people in the store. They said, ‘You need to have more staff that looks like this.’ They pointed to an Abercrombie poster. It was a Caucasian model,” she says, noting that it was hurtful. 

The film is set to release on April 19 on Netflix. Abercrombie released this statement on March 31 — 

“In the spirit of transparency, we want to directly acknowledge the news of an upcoming documentary that will feature Abercrombie & Fitch and focus on an era that took place under previous leadership. While the problematic elements of that era have already been subject to wide and valid criticism over the years, we want to be clear that they are actions, behaviors, and decisions that would not be permitted or tolerated at the company now. 

As we’ve evolved, we’ve felt the love from this community. We are grateful for the support you have given us as we’ve taken intentional steps to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Thank you for giving us the chance to show you who Abercrombie is today, and for being a part of who we will be tomorrow. We know the work is never done and remain committed to continually creating a company of which we can all be proud. #AbercrombieToday”.

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