Monday, September 22, 2008

A&F - Why I Still Don't Shop There

Walked past the local A&F at Eaton Centre in Toronto and was taken back by a large framed photograph in the stores entrance lobby. I shook my head because I was till shocked to see that A&F still hadn't addressed their image issue. I went inside and all of the other images were similar in nature. Mostly white.

The company was originally established as Abercrombie Co. by David T. Abercrombie on June 4, 1892, as a small waterfront shop at No.36 South Street in downtown Manhattan, New York. Wealthy New York lawyer Ezra Fitch was one of his regular customers. In 1900, Fitch left his law practice and bought a major share into the growing company, thus becoming the co-founder. Abercrombie Co. later moved into larger quarters at 314 Broadway, and Fitch began to implement experimental ideas to renovate the store. In 1904, Fitch's surname was incorporated and so the official name was changed to Abercrombie & Fitch Co. In 1988, Limited Brands acquired the ailing company for $47 million after having success in popularizing Express and Victoria's Secret.

In 2002, Abercrombie & Fitch sold a shirt that featured the slogan "Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White" with smiling figures in conical straw hats, a depiction of early Chinese immigrants. The company discontinued the designs and apologized after a boycott started by an Asian American student group at Stanford University. That same year, abercrombie kids removed a line of thong underwear sold for girls in pre-teen children's sizes after parents mounted nationwide storefront protests. The underwear included phrases like "Eye Candy" and "Wink Wink" printed on the front.

More t-shirt controversies occurred twice in 2004. The first incident involved a shirt featuring the phrase, "It's All Relative in West Virginia," a jab at alleged incest relations in rural America. West Virginia governor Bob Wise spoke out against the company for depicting "an unfounded, negative stereotype of West Virginia," but the shirts were not removed. Later, another t-shirt that said "L is for Loser" next to a picture of a male gymnast on the rings gathered publicity. The company stopped selling the shirt in October 2004 after USA Gymnastics president Bob Colarossi announced a boycott of Abercrombie & Fitch for mocking the sport.

In 2005, the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania launched a "girlcott" of the store for selling T-shirts that read, "Who needs brains when you have these?", "Available for parties," and "I had a nightmare I was a brunnette." The campaign went national on NBC's The Today Show, and the company pulled the shirts from stores on November 5, 2005. After Abercrombie & Fitch raised its price points in 2004, its products have been described as overpriced. After the company opened its flagship in London, the brand was criticized in the UK because the merchandise that was offered to the customers cost double (or even a direct $/£ swap) the prices found in the United States.

In 2004 lawsuit González v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the company was accused of discriminating against ethnic minorities by offering desirable positions to White American employees. The company agreed to an out-of-court settlement of the class action suit. As part of the settlement terms, Abercrombie and Fitch agreed to pay US$45 million to rejected applicants and affected employees, include more minorities in advertising campaigns, appoint a Vice President of Diversity, hire 25 recruiters to seek minority employees, and discontinue the practice of recruiting employees at primarily white fraternities and sororities. Dwight A. McBride has written Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality, which explores greater American intergroup relations while criticizing Abercrombie and Fitch.

Note: All images and text (not specified) is copyrighted by Christopher Cushman. This site does not specify or denote the sexual orientation of any model and as such please post your comments accordingly.


Aaron Morrow said...

Unfortunately, it does not seem as A&F is a company that is intimidated by image issues.... I think, perhaps, they thrive on their negative image and the publicity it garners them. And coming from a marketing background myself, I wouldn't doubt their underlying brand objective is to position themselves as a company that caters to white 20-something twinks. And the more they objectify that image, the more white 20-something twinks will actually go out and buy their piece of crap products.

EpiphanyNoir said...

While Im sure they do target the 20 something twinks that doesn't give them a pass on being socially responsible company. I am stupefied by their audacity and wonder how they feel in todays economy that they can afford to alienate such a large part of their audience. What bothers me more is to see young people of color wearing A&F and not clued in to what it represents.