Back in 2006, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jeffries now famously admitted in an interview with Salon.com that his brand was intentionally “exclusionary” and perhaps most offensive… well… I’ll simply quote him:
“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.”
So, is he an asshole? Yes. Is he materialistic? Of course. Is he STUPID for talking about it to Salon.com. No question.
The truth is, for a brand to mean something it has to put a stake in the ground and stand for something. What he has decided to stand for, and his message, is personal repulsive to me.. but in fact, that clarity helped him build a clear, effective, resonate worldwide brand very successfully. I was offended when I first heard about it but I can’t say it got me that riled up. Just another idiot opening his big mouth.
Then in spring 2013, Jeffries old statement resurfaced and suddenly caught fire in the media, causing uproar and creating a huge backlash against the brand – even motivating some such as the plus-sized blogger The Miltant Baker to pose in A&F clothes as a challenge to the traditional definition of sexy. In response to the negative press, the embattled CEO made a few statements. Ironically, it was those statements, and one in particular, that really caught my eye.
Let me just call out my favorite line:
“I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense”.
That, my friends, it is what we call in our house a non-apology, apology. It is a statement that makes you THINK he is apologizing but in fact what he is saying is “I did nothing wrong” and I am sorry you felt badly as a result. Not.. “I am sorry I was offensive”, it’s “I am sorry you were offended”. Entirely different! Basically it tells us that he takes no responsibility for his feelings, his actions, even for being stupid and talking about it. Jeffries is simply saying, “sorry you have a problem with it”.
And that says more to me about him, his brand, his company and his world view than anything else. As a consumer, arrogant leaders like that make me wonder “what else are they being irresponsible about?” When a company is run by somebody who, to quote my dear Jennifer Aniston re: her ex Brad Pitt, is so clearly “missing a sensitivity chip” it truly reveals his DNA and reflects directly on the brand he represents.
While I was already not interested in the brand or their product before…this statement sealed it for me. Not a company or an individual I can believe in or am interested in making richer, no matter what they are selling.
The best thing A&F could do at this point is to lock Jeffries in a closet and never let him make another public statement again.
And so where is A&F now? Well, that is the best part. Just a few weeks ago, the now-struggling Abercrombie announced that it will begin selling clothes in larger sizes as one of many ways to attract buyers back to the brand.
Too little too late my friends. Time for a re-brand.