It is my priority to keep this blog a happy space. A space of joy, where I share fun stuff I love. Inevitably, there will be posts which reflect my own opinion on certain subjects, products or other matters, but I will always be careful not to express myself in such a way that readers are bothered by heavy, existential discussions or moral issues. But. Sometimes, my dear readers, I do feel the need to set the record straight. So, for the first time ever, I want to start an All Things Jasmine discussion. Feel free to join in. :)
The Abercrombie & Fitch Fuss
Recently, a giant fuss has been made about American retailer Abercrombie & Fitch not selling XL and XXL sizes for women. I’m not even quite sure how the discussion started, but immediately after the size thing being leaked, people started linking the news to some things A&F’s CEO Mike Jeffries had said in a 2006 interview.
In this interview, Jeffries explains that Abercrombie targets a very specific group of people. Officially, Abercrombie targets adults aged 18 to 22. Jeffries elaborates on that, by stating that A&F “(goes) after the attractive All-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.” He adds that “a lot of people don’t belong (in A&F’s clothes), and they can’t belong.” Also – and this is the public’s favorite quote to include in their rants: “Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
In the blink of an eye, (social) media were full of A&F rants and outraged articles, all the way to outright brand boycots. One director even set up a campaign in which he asked people to donate their A&F clothing to the homeless. And don’t get me wrong: I understand the world’s reaction. The CEO of an immensely popular multi-million dollar company said some things that don’t tally with our view of the perfect society. But please allow me to shed a different light on the issues at stake here.
The glamour of elitism
Now. Am I getting this wrong, or is it exactly the exclusion that makes so many people love A&F? Isn’t it those perfectly tanned model torsos and those lines waiting outside A&F stores that feed the desire of many?
In Europe, A&F was immensely popular years ago. Why? Because the brand was only available in the US. You could only own an A&F T-shirt if you had traveled to the US. It was exclusive. Exclusionary – if you will. And we loved it. Far more than clothing or accessories, A&F’s unique selling point is the feeling of belonging to a specific group of people. The marketed exclusion – elitism, even – that we are all so shocked about now seems to have worked very well in the past. I would even dare to say that it was the most important factor in A&F becoming one of the world’s most succesful clothing retail companies.
Obviously, pointing a finger at the one you think is responsible is the easiest thing to do. But aren’t we (as in: consumers) the ones who feed these marketing strategies? Aren’t we – or, at least, some of us – the ones who secretly – or not so secretly – enjoy being part of an elite? And aren’t we the ones who get angry at companies only from the moment they don’t include us in their select target group anymore?
Abercrombie: casual haute couture?
Secondly: why is everyone all of a sudden acting as if A&F is the only brand ‘excluding’ certain groups of people? Haute couture brands have been doing so all along. Try finding a Balmain jacket larger dan a EU 36, for example. And next to body type: have you looked at the prices on those pieces? Exclusion of certain social classes? Yes, please. Plus, you don’t even have to go all the way to designer brands and haute couture. Most Italian high street brands, for example, claim to offer sizes up to EU 40 or 42. Well, I have tried to squeeze myself into those and trust me – they are not sizes 40 and 42.
Tacit vs. explicit exclusion
Which brings me to my third point, actually. Isn’t offering a size 40 that is actually a size 36 just as bad as claiming you only want tanned and slim people wearing your clothes? You don’t tell consumers explicitly, but they will find out soon enough that they don’t ‘belong’ (to use Jeffries’ words) when they try on your ‘size 40′. That’ll teach them! Lots of brands will turn to the old ‘our Italian sizes are smaller because Italian people themselves often are’-argument. Ok, but after years of producing clothes and also selling them in the rest of Europe, you know now that not all of us are. Why not offer a size 44 or 46, then?
Now, I don’t know Mike Jeffries personally. The man might be a giant prick – excuse my French – but I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t there. And neither were all those idealists ranting on about A&F on social media. Maybe Jeffries is just the only one in the industry willing to be honest? People don’t seem to mind excluding others when it can happen in silence. But once the word is out, the social construct inside all of us pops up and we feel the need to go and rant about it.
After the comments, Mike Jeffries released an official statement in which he apologizes for anything he said seven (!!) years ago that could be interpreted as an offence to certain groups. Society got its way: the big CEO admits to having made a mistake.
But, in the end, my question is: what is worse? The fact that Abercrombie & Fitch excludes certain groups of people and is open about it? Or the fact that, when society complains, brands send out a generic message of peace and love – like Jeffries now did – while still excluding people? Is the exclusion less arrogant when a brand’s CEO doesn’t openly admit to it? Is the exclusion justified if only it exists in silence?
Think about it. That’s all I’m saying.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Please do join the discussion!
PICTURE: Abercrombie & Fitch