That’s the message of a new Change.org petition calling for people to boycott fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch until CEO Mike Jeffries offers plus-sizes to consumers. Florida native Benjamin O’Keefe, 18, who described struggling with an eating disorder and feeling “worthless” because he couldn’t fit into popular clothing styles, created the petition on Tuesday.
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Anyone who has stepped foot inside an Abercrombie & Fitch store is familiar with the company’s not-so-subtle brand image: Pulsating club music and buff, shirtless male models set against a woodsy summer camp backdrop. The message is all-American athleticism and sex. The company website offers sizes ranging from S-L but according to an investigation by ABC News, which recently visited the company’s flagship store in New York City, after scouring racks stuffed with double zero and extra small sizes, they were told by salespeople that the company doesn’t carry XL or XXL for women.
A&F is no stranger to controversy—In 2002, they sold thongs for young girls with the phrases “Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink” printed on them. And in 2003, the A&F Quarterly, the company’s 7-year-old catalog, was discontinued after a mass boycott due to images of male and female models gallivanting naked and simulating sex.
Chief Executive Officer Mike Jeffries — known to walk through revolving doors twice because of superstitions and wear “lucky shoes” while reading financial reports, according to a 2005 story in Business Week — is unapologetic for A&F’s image. He famously told Salon in 2006 that his company pushes the envelope but ultimately doesn’t care what anyone other than the target consumer thinks and he admits that sex appeal is critical to selling clothes. “It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
He added in the 2006 interview, “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. 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.”
Recently, Jeffries was the subject of a Business Insider story called “Abercrombie & Fitch Refuses To Make Clothes For Larger Women,” criticizing the company for cultivating a singular beauty type.
“Mike Jeffries is one of the earliest and most successful brand builders in fashion,” Robin Lewis, founder and CEO of retail industry newsletter The Robin Report and co-author of The New Rules in Retail (2010) told Yahoo! Shine. “He’s very disciplined in adhering to the core consumer who is young, sexy, thin, and cool. You feel that when you walk into the store—it has a club-like vibe. I think they even call their sales associates models."
“This has always been their business model and lots of companies do it. You need a target audience but Jeffries doesn’t have to be so blatant about it. However, I don’t think his comments or the perceived message that overweight people can’t shop in his store will hurt business.”
In light of the fashion world now making room for people of all sizes, that remains to be seen. In May, clothing retailer H&M debuted their new swimsuit line featuring 23-year-old model Jennie Runk, reportedly six feet tall and considered plus-size per industry standards, right on the company’s homepage. American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostal, both cheaper versions of A&F, offer sizes up to XXL. And the Kardashian sisters, indisputable trendsetters, launched a plus-size line called Kurves at Sears in October. Last month, Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign featuring an FBI sketch artist to promote body image.And the timing couldn't be better given the recent push to end bullying and celebrate diverse body types—in March, a Swedish clothing store triggered a joyous Internet reaction when it used mannequins with softer stomachs and thicker thighs. One month later, people all over the world threw their support to an Oklahoma City Cheerleader after a CBS sports blogger suggested she was “chunky.” And on May 15th, style blogger Gabi Fresh’s collaboration with Swim Suits For All debuts offering sizes 10-24.
Abercrombie’s “Party and look good doing it” image may be selling clothes but as a seemingly outdated business model, it looks like they're partying alone.
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