My Problem With Abercrombie & Fitch

"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 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."

This is part of a statement in 2006 from Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. Let's let the rage settle a bit.

I won't go into detail about how the man isn't exactly Brad Pitt and how much cosmetic surgery he has evidently undergone, but any individual over the age of the 45 should have the life experience and the brains to understand that such a vulgar and bigoted attitude won't get him invites to dinner parties. It also counteracts almost everything that we aim to teach our youths in this day and age; don't judge others based on appearance, social status or who they choose to befriend. Of course, this man doesn't exist to instill morals or gain friends, this man exists to make money. And unfortunately, he's doing quite well.

Despite 2013 being a rather 'challenging' year for the brand, Abercrombie and Fitch has been a success story since it's boom in the early 90's. When Jeffries was appointed CEO in 1988, the company was a dreary sporting store stocking tennis and golf wear, and sales were dropping fast. Jeffries re-branded the company, deciding that the teen market was rapidly growing and a preppy all-American style was the way to the young consumer's hearts. After a dramatic expansion, A&F became one of the most popular teenage stores due to it's heavy focus on advertising, branding, music and it's ability to keep up with young cultural trends. Now bearing two offsprings, Hollister and Gilly Hicks, business is booming and doesn't show signs of stopping. 

Although the company and the attitude of it's CEO have come under scrutiny several times over the past 10 years, the sales figures prove that Abercrombie is firmly standing it's ground as a highly successful company, with stores located all over the world including Paris, Amsterdam and Hong Kong - and it shows no plans of halting it's expansion. As for Hollister, shops are popping up all over the place, with 6 being located in London alone. For me, it's both frustrating and disappointing - there is no sense of individuality anymore, and most teenagers are set on looking like they just walked off Huntington Beach. I admire their positivity (for the closest thing we get to California sun is the tanning bed in our local beauty salon), but something about paying £30 for a cotton t-shirt with HOLLISTER plastered on the front just doesn't sit right with me.Thus, this rather elongated blog post will be me diffusing my frustrations regarding A&F and it's offshoots.

"This is orange, right?"

If you've never been inside an A&F or Hollister store, it's probably because you've walked right past thinking it's a pub. Okay, a beach house pub with American music blaring from the door, but it definitely doesn't have the look of a retail store. Once you find yourself inside, you're greeted with a flash of perfect white teeth and swishy blonde hair, with a tag line along the lines of "Hi! Surf's up!" or something equally cringe-worthy. Apart from the drum-bursting soundtrack and overpowering perfume (which I have to admit is rather luscious), the most obvious thing about the store is that it's practically pitch black. Now I don't know about you, but on the rare occasion when I do go shopping, I like to see what I'm buying. I cannot count the amount of times I had someone pick up a t-shirt and ask me a) what colour it is, and b) how much it is. For me, it was fairly simple for me to respond to their question and walk away, for I knew most of the products off by heart (having worked upstairs for over a year). However, from a consumer's perspective, I can see the frustration of wanting to buy an item of clothing and not being able to distinguish between green and blue. Furthermore, the stores hold so much stock that everything is packed tightly in small piles, and with the sales assistants constantly running around folding things (because they really don't have anything else to do), as a customer you are worried about touching anything without damaging the displays. Four words: What. Is. The. Point. 
I have admit, if you're a tourist, you're bound to be intrigued by a store that has the vibe of a nightclub. However, as someone who prefers to see their garments properly before buying them, I'll stick to the blazing spotlights of H&M.

"I'm not a model model, I'm a Hollister model." 

I don't know about you but when I walk into store, I don't particularly enjoy being made to feel like crap for not being a size 0. As you've probably heard, A&F, Hollister and Gilly Hicks hire their sales assistants - or as the job role states, 'models' - based on physical appearance. The hiring manager approaches a potential candidate, sets up an interview and hey presto, you're in; to be frank, the interview doesn't really matter as most of the answers to questions are found on Google and as long as you're 'attractive' to their standards, you'll have no problem getting hired. Once you've officially been accepted, it's serious business. No nail polish. No make up. No jewellery. No un-natural hair colour. No up-do's. I don't know about you, but someone telling me I can't wear make up is like telling a monkey he can't have bananas; shit's gonna go down. Okay okay, fair play - dress code is dress code. But hiring individuals purely based on looks is both bizarre and ridiculous. In 2012, the A&F flagship store in Milan was put under pressure after it was discovered that staff were forced to carry out military-style exercises to make sure they maintained their 'perfect' physiques. In 2009, a lawsuit was filed against the company by a former employee who was made to work in the back because of a physical disability. Is this really the example a store who's target market is 14-17 year olds should be putting across? Is placing bare, toned torsos on their advertisements and paper bags trying to say "If you buy our clothes, you'll look like this. If you buy our clothes, you'll get the girl."?

Now in case you didn't know, there are actually two types of employees that work at A&F and Hollister stores; models, who meet and greet, fold, maintain changing rooms and tills, and the impacters, who work upstairs pulling all the stock, doing size checks, folding items to standards and steaming. It's very rare that a customer sees an impacter unless they've asked for an alternative size, in which case we'd be the ones running up and down the stairs to get it for them. From my personal experience, there was a clear and evident divide between the models and impacters. Although we were all working in the same store doing similar activities, it was almost a honour if an impacter was asked to work downstairs. Despite the fact that most impacters were hired for their experience rather than physical appearance, the models felt superior to us and we definitely felt this pressure, whether it was subtle or not. There was an incident when an impacter plucked up the courage to ask one of the models out, to which she replied to her fellow colleagues "Who dates impacters? Ew..." Models also received a lot more leniency towards lateness and lengthy breaks - after all, half of the managers were ex-models. Fair? Absolutely not. But it was Hollister - you couldn't expect much more. 

I don't like to bad mouth companies who work exceptionally hard to build a reputation for themselves in the retail industry. It's a tough market, and it takes individuality, ideas and a unique mindset to become a successful store in an industry where almost everything has been done. In a way, Abercrombie are incredibly clever; although a large amount of attention they receive in the public eye is negative, they are getting people talking about them, and that in itself is a marketing strategy gone right. Look at Miley Cyrus - we all essentially 'hate' her, yet constant articles, videos and discussions raise her popularity level dramatically, which is exactly what her managers want. From the evident prominence of A&F, it is clear that sex sells, and it's appeal doesn't show signs of ceasing. Unfortunately, media and advertisements are getting raunchier, and audiences are getting younger; it's now a choice of shrouding the kids from it all, or letting them make their own decisions. 


  1. This was a great rant! I feel sorry for the people that work there sometimes. Its tough to maintain.

    1. Thank you so much! It really is, I've seen first hand how much pressure there is to be accepted :(

    2. You'll be happy to know Gilly hicks is closing all over London. Most of the major stores although I ha've not researched this but I've noticed four gone so far.

    3. Yeah I heard about this! (Should have mentioned it really), it's a shame because many people will be losing their jobs, which is unfair. Apparently the Gilly Hicks stuff will be selling online from now on, though. x

  2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2488451/Abercrombie--Fitch-ditches-cheeky-cousin-Gilly-Hicks.html


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