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Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Brilliance of Abercrombie & Fitch

I came across a Yahoo news story from August 2005 (link no longer active, have to use Lexis or Wayback machine) referring to a group of teenaged girls who, after calling for a boycott, managed to swing a meeting with Abercrombie brass. You can find other stories about it here. An excerpt:

Teenagers who were offended by T-shirts on sale at Abercrombie & Fitch and launched what they called a "girlcott" met with company brass on Monday. Some of the T-shirts went too far, according to some young women.

The shirts boasted slogans such as:

"Blondes are adored, brunettes are ignored."

"Give me something to scream about."

The T-shirt that got the girls so upset in the first place said, "Who needs brains when you have these?" -- the words written across the chest of the shirt.

One of the protesters said, "Just being in high school we have enough to deal with -- without having to walk around looking at my own peers just degrading themselves and demeaning themselves. Just how much more negative can you get?"

Representatives from a group called the Women and Girls Foundation were invited to Abercrombie & Fitch national headquarters, in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, to offer up their own ideas for T-shirts.

Messages like, "Your book or mine?" and, "You're just jealous because I have a 4.0." were put forth.

The girls said they hope the company gets their message.

"The money's coming out of our wallets. We're putting our money down for their products. So, they've got to make it better," one girl said.

The consequence of the so-called 'girlcott' was for A&F stores to pull the t-shirt off its shelves. In A&F's words,

A&F has reached an amicable agreement with the Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania under which we will stop selling several t-shirts in our stores.

In recognition that these t-shirts might be found to be objectionable to many young women, who are among our best customers, we contacted Heather Arnet, Executive Director of the Women & Girls Foundation, and offered to discuss the issue with them. We recognize that the shirts in question, while meant to be humorous, might be troubling to some.

Now, this is not the first time some group has been upset with Abercrombie, and initiated some sort of public demonstration. A few years ago, Abercrombie had a shirt that read, "Two Wongs Make It White" with a logo for an Asian cleaners. This upset Asian-American groups, and the shirt was pulled. The immediate effect of the latter protest was for the shirts to hit E-bay, at prices upward of $200. Every time they release a t-shirt with a message someone finds offensive, they follow the exact same protocol. Ignore it for a little while, then, towards the end of the line's shelf-life, meet with the group and in as consiliatory a manner as possible, apologize and pull the shirts, most of which would be gone a few weeks later, anyway. This both lets them come off as responsive and socially responsible, as well as garnering massive publicity and garnering a secondary-market share. If nobody had complained about the Two Wongs shirt, fewer people would have bought it, and not only that, but it would have quietly faded away. Now it's both a shirt with a not particularly clever catch phrase, as well as the equivilent of a shirt demarking an event. It's like a concert tee - it shows that "you were there" if you have it.

Current female t-shirt slogans include, "I may not be perfect, but parts of me are pretty awesome"; "Don't call me cowgirl till you see me ride."; "Not Tied Down (maybe later)"; "Wanna see my favorite yoga position?"; and "You're at the top of my 'to do' list." So it's not as if the girlcott really got them to change insitutional policy with respect to their overall message.

For the record, I have nothing against this message. I personally own plenty of clothes from Abercrombie and Hollister, many of which possess messages of the exact character people are so aghast at. My personal favorite is, "You can fake it, but I can fake an entire relationship." Somehow the principle people accept as granted when chastising the makers of these shirts, is that they create some sort of false model of female behavior. That, by existing, they're encouraging promiscuity and objectifying women. It's one I've never understood.

Even accepting, for a moment, that someone wearing a shirt that might communicate the user's willingness to flaunt her breasts to get out of trouble; this isn't a message that is thrust upon anyone. Someone has to go to the store, buy the shirt, and then elect to wear it, even if such a message were associated with donning a garment. It's the same sort of mentality that governs people who are against the existance of legal prostitution - that somehow, there is a categorical harm to women when men start thinking of certain of them as sexual objects, a claim that strikes me as silly.'

All of this is somewhat academic when you really get down to it, though, since the shirts don't actually do any of this. Anybody who would respect a girl less for wearing a clearly joking shirt is someone who probably already harbors chauvenistic tendencies. In context, nobody really considers shirts of this nature to be particularly meaningful. But I digress.

The other brilliant move Abercrombie has going for them is sizing. Try to find a women's extra large. They don't exist. Sizes run from extra small to large, and the large is more like a normal store's medium. By design, the only people who can really wear their clothes are people who are skinny and would probably not flinch if you called them superficial. Even their stores are set up to be intimidating - they hire people who are selected because they are attractive. Their application requires a picture. They have dim lighting and loud music. The message they end up sending is clear, and they manage to brand themselves as clothes for the skinny and hot people without even advertizing as such. They willfully turn away certain demographics to get a stranglehold on another, more desirable one. It's brilliant.

cranked out at 11:59 AM | |

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