General Ramblings · Rants For Thought

Dear Mike Jeffries, “Abercrombie Kids” I Knew Wouldn’t Call You Cool

When I was a teenager, we didn’t have Abercrombie & Fitch in my mall. I lived in a small town and the best we had was Bluenotes jeans, where my friends and I drooled over “name-brand” jeans in sizes that squeezed the tiny bit of fat on our stomach and thighs, and overpriced T-shirts that were made of cheap cloth and bore an expensive logo. But we wanted Abercrombie clothes. We wanted them because the kids on TV wore them. We wanted them because they looked cool.

Let’s pause there for a second. The clothes looked cool, and we wanted them so that we could look cool, too.

The CEO of Abercrombie, Mike Jeffries, set his marketing strategy up this way. See, Jeffries wants you to look cool in his clothes, especially if you’re a young teen. But if you’re fat, or ugly, or not athletic? Please don’t darken the doors of his stores. You’re not who he wants to market to. He doesn’t want to see his clothes on your back. You’re not cool enough – oh, unless you’re a man. Then there are XL and XXL sizes for you. Because bigger men are okay, but big women are gross and uncool.

When I was a teenager, I was not cool. I didn’t hang out with the “popular crowd” (and I didn’t want to). I was an artsy, strange girl who wore braids in her hair and black jean overalls over white T-shirts. I liked Abercrombie clothes at first, as much as we saw in our town, but I didn’t feel much draw towards them as high school went on. For me, clothes weren’t about being cool. For me, it wasn’t what you wore – it was how you acted. I stopped caring about looking like everyone else and started to really rejoice in looking like myself.

The kids that Jeffries is attempting to sell his clothes to wouldn’t have been caught dead in them when I was in high school. They wore their own styles and weren’t interested in following the crowd. The kids who wanted the Abercrombie clothes weren’t popular, or well-liked, or even noticed in the hallways. They were kids who were lonely. They were kids who didn’t fit the status quo. And they were fat, or not conventionally pretty, and they were definitely not athletic. But they wore the clothes and felt like they belonged.

Jeffries can choose to market to whomever he wants. I, as a fat woman who’s not conventionally pretty, but is a pretty snappy dresser, am simply going to sit back and laugh at the pure audacity of an adult man trying to perpetuate high school stereotypes to sell clothes. I’m also going to laugh at the idea of him trying to lure popular, stereotypically cool kids to his store by promising them they can look just like everyone else. Dude, those ain’t the kids you want to market to. And if you’re looking to fit in yourself somehow by doing it? You’re failing pretty miserably.

See, the kids who will buy your clothes are the kids who have never felt like they belonged – maybe just like you, Mr. Jeffries. They’re the kids who are looking for neutral styles that make them look trendy. They want to not feel like fat kids, or ugly kids, for one day in their lives. And you’re ignoring them and playing into stereotypes that crush them into those roles because you have some weird idea about only cool kids being worthy to wear your clothing.

Like I said, dude, you can market to whom you want. This post isn’t going to change anything. But as a fellow marketer, I’m wondering about your strategy . . . because there are a ton of other clothing stores who recognize the need to feel good in your own skin, and are starting to sell clothing to the people who traditionally never do. They’re offering unique pieces that even the coolest kids will be interested in. So not only are you driving away your hated demographic, you’re also driving away the demographic you want in your stores.

Plus, the popular kids I knew weren’t interested in perpetuating stereotypes. The kids I knew weren’t friends, but they were friendly. They stood up for kids who got teased and they fought for equality. There were kids who did care about exclusivity and putting others down, but they were few and far between when I was in high school. So out of a huge population of high school students, you’ve got maybe 5% interested in the marketing strategy you’re coming out. What about the other 95%?

Well, we’ll be shopping with the retailers who care about making us feel good – because they know that’s the way to make money.

And, Mr. Jeffries?

I’m a lot cooler as a strong, badass, feminist fat chick than I ever was as an insecure thin teen. I think you’ll find that fat doesn’t necessarily equal uncool for the majority of the population, after all.

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Abercrombie & Fitch logo
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107 thoughts on “Dear Mike Jeffries, “Abercrombie Kids” I Knew Wouldn’t Call You Cool

  1. I will never forget when I was in college, I worked in their flagship store. I’m 5′ 8″ and was a quite healthy size 8 in college. One day, Mike J. was to be visiting our store and my manager told me I was not allowed to work that day. She was concerned that Mike would be disgusted by seeing someone as “fat” as I was displaying his clothes. That was 10 years ago. It’s a little depressing to think this hasn’t changed.

    And you’re right. The “cool” kids weren’t into the brand anyway.

    1. That’s so shameful, I cannot believe people like that exist. What a twat. I never bought the clothes, because I was into dressing my own way. (Value Village was my shopping mecca). I hope Mike J reads this post.

  2. Can I say I’m lucky we don’t have A&F in my place? πŸ™‚ To actually measure the degree of “coolness” by what we are wearing and our size is to have our brain electrocuted. Everyone is cool in their own way, like me! *I have blogs and write poems anonymously and I think I’m cool. Cheers! Love reading this.

      1. But you know what gets to me? He has the power to do good. I mean, how many of us have money like that? Or the opportunity to touch so many lives? He can reach countless lives and decides to say this.

  3. Thanks for this post. My 13 year old (ultra trendy and popular – could be in one of their ads) daughter told me about this sort of thing. She is disgusted by them and refuses to shop there, even with her friends. I was pretty disgusted too. And your post might change things…it will make me tell even more mom’s about this and I’ll show it to my daughter. Just one blogger at a time you CAN change things.

    1. Aw, this comment really made my day πŸ™‚ I hope all the bloggers who care about this stuff can help change it. I just refuse to accept that this is the way things are, anymore. Thank you for your thoughts and encouragement! And your daughter sounds amazing πŸ™‚

  4. I was surprised to hear of this too on Facebook. My Dad works in marketing, so I’ve basically grown up with that stuff even though I’m only 19. He’s really, really bad at marketing- trying to target things towards certain sizes- I mean, people fluctuate in size from day to day- There’s stress, there’s genes, etc.. (I have the opposite problem: often have to go into the kids section of stores because I’m petite and it’s no fun dressed feeling like I’m twelve in my second year of university).– and it’s really limiting his audience- the clothes don’t fit on some because they’re too small, they don’t fit on others because the clothes are too big- Great marketing tactic Mr. Jeffries. Your company won’t be bankrupt in a few years; and everybody’s thinking that Abercrombie and Fitch is the best because it’s so exclusive and specific. How does exclusivity make money? Unless he plans on skyrocketing the price to make up for the diminished audience he has created, and then he would limit it even further because he’s had to raise the prices to keep a profit. I think this is the beginning of the end for that store.

  5. It is not only A&F (it’s short for Ageing and Fat, isn’t it?). It is like that in Hollywood, on the catwalks of all the fashion-cities, on the magazine covers who report about Hollywood and the big fashion shows. To see the “fat” (anyone size 8 is never FAT) of a woman as an insult of your own eyes is an uncool attitude that has lead to a war of words against the fat.
    There are people out there who accuse us – the fat – of consuming “more than our fair share of food” – well, dude, sorry, but at least we EAT the food – and do not throw it away.
    Another of those hyperintelligent fit persons said, an overweight news presenter (who agrees she has no healthy weight) was a disgrace and a bad example for children, when she worked in front of a camera on public display. Hey, dude – she was bringing the NEWS to you, not her personal views on food and body-size. Unlike you.
    Lately this kind of bashing goes on and on. In an innocent column in my local paper a writer wrote about her being SOOO cool when approaching her 50th birthday – she said, she was only 25 by her music taste – well, but for a well known female singer, who was just too fat to be liked. Hello, girl, grow up, music is about the sounds that come out of that young woman you sneered at – and that chick has an amazing voice!

    But – since not all of the fat persons (and I am REALLY fat, the first to admit it) lack brains we may strike back. What would this world be without people like those at Abercrombie and Fitch? Full of happy fat women. Ok, off to my chocolate I go to gush it down with some sugary soda!
    Let others be terrorized by numbers. I enjoy life meanwhile.

  6. When I was working as an English teacher in South Korea whenever it was parents day I would be asked to stand at the front to greet them. This same thing happened when corporate came to visit. They wanted the blond pretty white person up front and center. This behavior is accepted there. Some of the companies won’t even hire you if you aren’t foreign enough looking for them. It’s a sad. sad process. But there are no laws about equality there.

  7. It sounds like you went to a high school where most of the kids had their heads on straight. If the current generation will all see this and boycott A&F – good for them!

    (Incidentally, I’ve never worn A&F clothes, but I did know about their “hiring practices” through some friends at college. I wondered at the time how that much discrimination could be legal. Hopefully, it won’t be for much longer.)

    1. A lot of them did, yes. I was bullied a lot in my elementary school days, but people grew up a lot in high school and I had a much better experience. A&F is problematic all the way around, I agree!

  8. I remember taking my niece shopping a few years ago and her wanting to buy something from Abercrombie. Before this, I had only passed it, thinking what a scam with the club music, smoky entrance and giant shirtless images. What I wasn’t expecting was that she couldn’t fit into any of the jeans. She was thin, at least by human standards. She ended up buying a pair of shorts that I think she didn’t necessarily fit into. She left to her own country and lost more weight after that. I’ve never entered Abercrombie again.
    Thank you for your fierce writing.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts and insight. I think it’s really damaging to young women and men when the clothes don’t fit them in stores where they should . . . it sends a really bad message.

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! I received that honor recently and it was amazing as I hope it is for you. Thanks for not being afraid to be yourself – that is great that you recognized the value in that from a young age πŸ™‚ I personally, am trying to support more clothing organizations that support fair trade, and when that is too expensive, I go with consignment stores. I’m learning how to dress in a way that speaks about who I am and am encouraged by your story!
    Blessings
    -Jen
    http://thelilyandthemarrow.wordpress.com/

    1. It’s definitely been great to have the exposure! I agree, it’s important to choose clothing that matches our values and of course, looks good and makes us feel good. Thank you for dropping by!

  10. An A&F shop recently opened up near me (the only one in the country!) and I don’t think anyone has had to ask for directions there once. You can smell the place a mile away.

    Also, the half naked men standing outside are a bit of a give away too. But what amuses me is that despite being in Ireland (where it rains everyday) the marketing stays the same, always having these half dressed males outside the shop. I’ve been walking by before when it’s snowing, and they’re still standing there, only to have been shown mercy and be allowed to wear jackets. Which are left open to reveal six packs. If the genders were switched, there would be uproar that the shop was only employing based on bodies and appearances…

  11. Very well said! I’m a pretty, fat, and cool person, who has walked into Abercrombie once in her life and walked out. It was in NYC and they were having a loud, flashy event with sickly thin models in their plain and uninteresting clothes.

    1. Yeah, I never felt a draw to shop there. I have a friend who loves the clothes, but I am so turned off by the atmosphere! Plus now I’m turned off more than ever as a fat person πŸ˜›

  12. Totally agree – I hate places where the customer service is rubbish and the sizes are bizarre – I’ve only been to the London one ‘cos there’s not many in the UK but it was horrendous – I actually left with a headache – it’s supposed to be a shop not a nightclub.

  13. I was so angry when I read about this. But you’re totally right, he’s going to eat his own words when it comes to sales, because the 95% of individuals who don’t meet his standards are going to turn a blind eye. Sometimes I just wish people could look on the outside like they act on the inside. That would be some easy justice. I struggled as a teen with my weight, and with trying to fit in and be “cool,” and adults who set shallow examples such as this don’t help with the development of a healthy self-esteem in young people. Luckily I had some inspirational individuals in my life to help me realize how cool it is to be “uncool” (in that you’re not fitting into society’s cookie cutter of beauty, but instead crafting your own unique cookie cutter). πŸ˜‰ I’m thinking you probably did too, because your confidence is awesome!

    1. I have definitely had individuals who are inspirational and strong. I’ve known a bunch of really strong women who have inspired me to be stronger and more confident. So important! πŸ™‚

  14. My tween daughter, who cares more about trends than I’d like her to, told me about this and said to me “What about girls with boobs? Where do they shop?” Even at my thinnest (size three), I always needed a large shirt to cover my chest, which was a Double D. Abercrombie doesn’t like busty girls either apparently. Personally, I’m not offended by his commitment to sell clothes to skinny people, after all, there are plus size only stores, right? I’m more concerned that he’s a douchebag who’s trying to relive his high school glory days by trying to hang with the cool kids by selling them stuff. Almost like buying their love. However, the cool kids that I went to high school with didn’t care for Abercrombie, because it was lame. We bought Calvin Klein jeans, etc. Sydney’s friends still think Abercrombie is lame and the “cool” kids shop @ stores like Urban Planet, which my daughter eyes with such envy when I still won’t let her shop there because she’s only in grade 6.

    Douchebags don’t like to admit they are douchebags, which is why when a brand is associated with douchery, most people stop buying it, like Tapout, Ed Hardy, etc. Mike Jefferies just shot himself in the foot.

    1. I agree, it’s true that they don’t want to admit it. I think the problem isn’t the exclusionary techniques so much as the reasons behind them. Of course many stores only sell to a certain part of the population, but yes, again, they never said “Well, only fat people matter” or “only teenagers matter, everyone else is gross and not cool enough.”

  15. Reading this makes me extremly glad we do not have these stores in my country. Thank you for educating me about this and sharing your thoughts with me!

  16. Really liked what you have to say. When I was in high school, I was the thin, handsome, athletic dude but I saw labels like A & F to be extremely stereotypical. I never went into those stores when looking for clothing because I thought the concept they were selling was completely bullshit. For perspective’s sake, what year did you graduate high school?

  17. Great Post! It is ridiculous to learn about this man’s methods, being a marketer myself. It is because of people like this that I came into this business in the first place, wanting to eradicate such shallowness and greed to rule the most powerful tool for change on our planet. I am currently a Brand Partner at Vemma, and absolutely love it. Check out my website to see if you like it. I put up a lot of motivational and success articles on it -http://surajdatla.com

  18. You make such good points! I remember when a Hollister store opened in my local shopping center and people used to queue to get in until they eventually realised how shallow, overpriced and discriminatory it is to people of a certain weight. I’ve had a friend cry when she couldn’t find anything that fit her in there!

    There’s no real point in complaining though. A&F will have lost themselves loads of money and customers spewing out rubbish like that. Who’s going to shop there now?

    1. Word! Believe it or not buying power is a power folks forget they have…Participated in several petitions to NOT buy from certain companies that openly practice discrimination…works slowly to make them change things. Walmart is a big example. I’ve personally never been one that HAD to have any certain brand of clothing to feel good about myself..IF folks weren’t so hung up on our country nudity(the most natural state of being) wouldn’t be unlawful. If folks were nude there would be alot less to hide; and kids would have alot less hangups about wanting certain brands. Just food for thought..

  19. Really interesting post! Not sure if anyone has mentioned it but A&F were in the news a few years ago here in the UK, after apparently making an employee work in their stockroom as her prosthetic arm did not fit their “image”. I remember being really angry by this at the time. Luckily A&F has never been a shop i’ve been interested in. It’s trying to hard to be cool and to me, it’s anything but. Thanks!

    The story can be read here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8116231.stm

  20. I enjoyed this blog. Last year my brother in law ( when I was wearing Hollister tshirt, which I only bought cuz it was super soft, comfy and on sale) says to me “Hollister, youre exactly the opposite of what that Brand stands for”. At the time I didnt know whether to be insulted or to thank him. Im not what I wear, Im who I am.

  21. I really don’t care about brand names, tbh. And I babysit this girl whose friends were trying to get her to buy her clothes from shops such as A&F (little more than tacky hoodies with a brand name attached) when its not really her style. Girls should feel free to stand up for themselves, even though it is incredibly difficult.

  22. What a weird marketing ploy. Even envy-blinded fat kids can see right through it! I never fit into any of their clothes (at least, not the one I tried on at Goodwill) even in my thin days. Love this post!

  23. I was so outraged by the man’s view I wrote a cheeky song to him…..stylemesenseless.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/a-song-for-the-ceo-of-abercrombie-and-fitch-mike-jeffries/

    Hannah
    x

  24. It’s so disgusting that some one with so much influence decides, instead of using good marketing skills, to just make average, thin and larger people insecure. It’s so horrible and outdated, and what he said must be some form of discrimination or purposeful segregation. Ugh.

  25. His strategy is to make thin people feel better at the expense of fat people. Oh. Not exactly. His strategy is to make thin women and men of any size to feel better at the expense of fat women. That’s unfair, dirty and sexist. Well, he is not alone in this, for a lot of brands feed on the human need to feel better at the expense of someone else. He’s just one of the more outspoken. And as a marketer you might have noticed that his stock is performing in quite a healthy manner. It is not him that you may need to fight against, but people whose psychological needs he satisfies. Not to mention that I am sure he’s breaking some law, because having large sizes for men (but not for women) is a discrimination.

  26. My daughter is 2 years old. I hope that by the time she is old enough to care what stores her clothes come from A&F will no longer be a choice. I hope to teach her about real beauty and that this ignorant man won’t be around to undo what I have done. Great post!

  27. keep going
    marketing is generally evil
    but its like balding for men
    when you grow a brain and a heart you realise these things can be forgotten
    and disregarded
    like careerism
    and
    this empty man

    thanks

  28. I cannot explain how much this represents my life. I go to school everyday and I am wondering why on earth people are spending tons of money on clothes that aren’t going to last longer than three wears, clothes that do not flatter anyone and that they are basically a walking advertisement for A&F. It drives me insane and I am so glad I boycotted the phase in the 7th grade! I feel so much happier about myself, and the fact that I don’t have to rely on clothing brands to make me happy! YOU DA BEST! -nerdwithtaste.wordpress.com

  29. I was definitely uncool, and I never shopped (or shop now) at A&F. I like things that are different and unique (I’m a jewelry designer), so I tend to go for stores that are independent. I’m glad to know you are comfortable in your own skin. Cheers!

  30. I always thought that store was worthless. Great blog, I did not realize that Abercrombie & Fitch does not carry an XL size, but if this information were to get out to the masses, you can bet THEIR bottom dollar that they’ll make it appear, since all they really care about is exactly that.

  31. It is sad how we can feel so badly about ourselves because of what messages companies send. I always hated that store growing up. I still walk by with a sense of sadness. And a headache, because they spray all their stinky perfume to draw you in. No thank you!!

  32. i was so angry when i heard about this. SO discriminative. does he not know that being “uncool” IS cool now!? and everyone is a different shape and size, we shouldn’t have to fit into his pretty little idea of the perfect body. i have always refused to shop there, ever since i heard they only hired “pretty people” and models.

    by his definition I am “cool” – a small size, beachy hair. what would he say, i wonder, if he found out that “cool people” only ever look at me with confusion when I open my mouth? that my hair is beachy because i can’t be bothered straightening it every day when i come out the shower? That i’m skinny for less than fashionable reasons?

    the man is a moron and should be sacked. unfortunately it’s his company… so we can all just refuse to shop there and he can see how many customers he is alienating. screw him!

  33. I wish I had gone to your high school. All the “cool” kids at my school DID care about wearing the “right” clothes (though at the time it was Guess that was the “in” thing). There was even a yearbook spread on what everyone was wearing. I hope you are right that 95% of the population really gets that this guy is an ass. I also hope I can teach my girls was cool really is (especially if they end up at schools like my high school). I didn’t feel cool until college. But I think that also stems from growing up in a very very small town (under 500 people) where people just continue to live through their high school glory.

  34. I could totally reaate. I’m from a city far, far away from any major big city. I thought I wanted to wear name brands, because it was nowhere near us to even get, but, in the end, being my size, it never would have worked out. I am so glad there are people like you writting and trying to undo the Hollywood way. It’s awful what the television and media wants everyone to be. Strange wierdos rule!!

  35. I thought it was a rumour but the comment by “Normal is the New Weird” has confirmed otherwise. They have the right to market/target whoever thy want, but to craft an image of “cool young people” that is largely defined by size is wrong and insensitive on many levels. Women apparel retailers sometimes have 3 lines – regular, petite and “large” (replaced with more appealing terms) and that’s fine. The message is – we offer fashions and find something that suits you. Maybe luxe, maybe cool, or what not. But to define and promote coolness defined in size sends the wrong message, and especially bad for young people.

  36. Just a suggestion… you should move your ‘follow’ button to the top of your sidebar… it’s hard to find stuck down there on the bottom!
    My original reply turned into a blog post, instead.
    http://www.freefunorinteresting.wordpress.com <– Can't seem to change the site linked to my name, so the blog where it's posted is here. Sorry it looks so spammy, but it's not spam, I promise.

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