#FitchtheHomeless: A Lesson in #Brand Shaming

Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, is being targeted for an online shaming campaign aimed at both spreading awareness of the homeless and rejecting the ideals that make the fashion industry a horrible thing to begin with.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told Salon.com in 2006. “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.” The CEO has also stated he would rather “burn” his clothing line than give it away to the needy and homeless.

Admittedly, these comments are rather old news, yet recently they were dusted off and scrutinized by Robin Lewis, author of “The New Rules of Retail.” Seemingly overnight on Monday, Los Angeles writer Greg Karber started an instant viral hit, creating a nationwide campaign based on rejecting and shaming the brand.

It’s a powerful statement, but will it really work? 

Some critics of the video say it is demeaning to homeless people, while others say it targets the CEO rather than the consumers who fuel his drivel and line his pockets. I’m of the opinion that by shaming the brand, you can shame people from sporting it. Forbes seems to think of the public as easily manipulated by this type of branding, calling Mr. Jeffries’s statement “perverse brilliance” and predicting that the viral video and distaste of the brand will be short-lived, and the exclusivity that comes with the brand will attract more customers.

Unfortunately, Mr. Jeffries is a typical fashion maven. He’s a jerk. His income thrives on the insecurities of his customers. The fashion world  caters to the dark side of human psychology and creates refuge for the part of society that encourages anorexia and bulimia, targeting young women and men who think that their clothing can make them more popular and secure, believing that if they can fit into size 3 jeans and an extra small shirt, the world will view them as beautiful. And as beautiful people, they will be more successful, powerful, respected, and loved.

I’ve always viewed Abercrombie & Fitch as a brand made for skinny people who hate themselves, ever since I received my first catalog filled with hyper-sexualized, anorexic-looking teens. Abercrombie & Fitch has been making the world more insecure, one fashion ad at a time, since the late 1990’s. They’ve often been under fire by activist groups. In 2002, they drew bad press for perpetuating negative stereotypes against Asian Americans and the ire of mothers for creating a line of thong panties for preteen girls. In 2011, they reached a new low, selling padded bikini tops for girls as young as seven.


The video has over 4 million views, and it’s making waves. The meme brigade is also out in full force, giving Mr. Jeffries a taste of his own medicine.

Is a tidal wave of negative press online and influx of internet memes powerful enough to change the minds of the young, insecure people Fitch relies on for continued income? Maybe, but maybe not. It’s been a long time coming, but if making thongs for 10 year olds didn’t put a dent in their sales, it’s hard to imagine a public shaming campaign based on their stinginess and their adherence to fashion industry ideal of beauty will cause an uproar in their customer base.

Unfortunately,  it’s going to take much more than a #FitchtheHomeless campaign to make the fashion industry change its approach when selling to impressionable, insecure youth. Even if Abercrombie & Fitch filed for bankruptzy tomorrow, there would be another large fashion retailer to rise and take its place. Overall, it’s our culture that needs change.

If you do choose to #FitchtheHomeless, it would be nice if you brought some other brands to the shelter you’re visiting, too. Not very many people, even those without income or homes, can fit into size 0-6 jeans, anyway.

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