A few weeks ago one of the most popular mass market clothing retailers became one of the most hated.
First there was the scathing report on Abercrombie and Fitch's decision not to make their all-American clothing in larger sizes. Then there was the astonishing excerpt from a 2006 interview with CEO Mike Jeffries which resurfaced, sparking renewed outrage. "We want to market to cool, good-looking people," Jeffries told Salon. “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. 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."
Cue backlash, led by 18-year-old powerhouse Benjamin O’Keefe. "Stop telling teens they aren’t beautiful and start making clothes for people of all shapes and sizes," wrote the teenager in a petition posted to Change.org. His message was supported by over 68,000 signatures. A viral video campaign and a plus-size photo shoot in protest of the company's exclusionary policies followed suit.
Suddenly, the popular kids weren't A&F customers but protesters, so the brand finally got the memo. On Wednesday, after meeting with O'Keefe, his fellow campaigners, and representatives from the National Eating Disorder Association in person, A&F released the following statement: "We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion." They also gave a red-faced apology for their CEO's big mouth. “We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values."
It was a big win for the little guys, but there's still some unfinished business. O'Keefe wants to see Abercrombie shirts in XXL. "I'm happy to hear that Abercrombie took my passion and your voices to heart in this meeting and plans to take concrete steps to show their support for diversity and inclusion," he said in a statement. “I will continue these conversations with their executive staff to share our concerns with them to make sure that consumers see those changes implemented in their local Abercrombie store."
Meanwhile, Abercrombie has more amends to make in the near future. A federal judge is weighing an injunction after recently ruling that several Abercrombie & Fitch stores aren't equipped with proper wheelchair access for the disabled community.