Britain’s Top Model contestant Ufuoma Itoje told me about how Abercombie & Fitch have change their look policy, as staff are banned from having anything else other than straight hair including braids (which in affect caused her to leave). A friend-of-a-friend Daphine (known as Dap Tony) told I and a colleague of mine how she was scouted by one of the scouts from the company (unfortunately, she was very pessimistic with the situation as she felt that her complexion doesn’t go down with the company). Adding to these realities, how about the disabled employee Riam Dean, who sued the company for £8,000 for unlawful harassment. She was always at the backroom and was never allowed on the shopfloor.
Image image image; that’s what the brand is associate with. If you think I’m making this up then I guess you don’t notice those SHIRTLESS male models outside the entrance (with athletic-body-built muscles) who’s job is to just ‘look sexy’ i.e. lustfully entice customers to their store (I still have to see ladies in bikinis standing outside their store). Since the ‘looks’ is the standard, then it’s essential that the staff (referred to as models) obtain model physique and nothing less. You must have that ‘sex-appeal’; the eye-candy that would stop ‘hot-looking’ customers in their tracks. It’s this philosophy that the company has seen a rise of lost discrimination cases, boycotts and protest in Britain, United States and France. It raises the question whether their hiring policies are discriminatory as they always recruit their employees on the basis of the beauty (Abercrombie & Fitch are an American brand and Americans/America are so heavily conscious about their looks despite the company’s preppy fashion style).
I may raise some eyebrows with what I’m about to say…this is how the fashion industry to some extent operates, especially at castings (which are brutal). When you think you’re a size 6 with wide hips, some scouters/designers would say that the female is too overweight for their collection. I remember watching a Youtube documentary when one of the models stated how she and her black friends of ‘dark complexion’ had to separate at the casting for BET’s Rip The Runway, as black girls together is perceived ‘ghetto’ (so stereotypical). Therefore, I assume that going to a Abercrombie & Fitch store requires some effort. If the store states that it’s the beautiful who run the world (or company in this essence), then be prepared for some whispers, snickering and a few looks if you don’t fit ‘attractive consumer’ profile. Also, it’s no surprise that there’s a likelihood ethnic minorities would experience discrimination (until after the suing from US Blacks and Hispanics in 2003, but I don’t know if it made any difference).
Oh well, thank Mike Jeffries, who transformed a male oufitter, outdoor shop to a multibillion firm that caters to the ‘…attractive, all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.’ He & Webner created an image of the popular cliques that you envied, admired and fancied at your secondary, high junior/high school. The studs, the hunks, the cheerleaders…(you get the point). If you don’t want to stacking shelves like the average looking Joe, then I suggest you get yourself that model makeover.
The company’s clothing is not meant for the masses and many would argue that it was intentional for their products to be expensive. Many columns have criticised the company for limiting their audience to teenagers and rich kids. Nevertheless, despite the lawsuits, rumours and media frenzy of their policies, what we can say is that Abercrombie & Fitch is two things: youth & sex.