The fact that Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) have been in the business since 1892 shows that the American apparel retailer must doing something right.
Promoting a favorable public image isn’t it.
A&F is now accustomed to coming under fire for its discriminatory policies and it is going to be an uphill task to counter its bad reputation among customers as well as the media.
In an attempt to to soften its image, the company recently announced the introduction of a plus-size clothing collection for Spring 2014.
Given its usual “look policy," which critics say cater to mostly white, young, athletic-looking people, the announcement is a gracious gesture. But will it be enough?
That depends on how quickly people are willing to forgive and/or forget the past.
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Despite claims that it does not tolerate discrimination, the New Albany, Ohio-based company has repeatedly been accused of the exact opposite. The target of numerous discrimination lawsuits - including a federal class action brought by black, Hispanic and Asian employees and job applicants that was settled for $40 million in 2004 – A&F needs to do better than being nice to a different weight group.
It’s not just the company’s policies that have been offensive, but CEO Mike Jeffries’ own insulting and scornful attitude as well.
According to Jeffries, his merchandise is only for good looking and smart people. The latter statement goes completely against its new and seemingly fake ‘embracing big people’ policy.
The following tweet shows exactly how bad A&F’s image is and what its PR team is up against.
Everything wrong with society aka Abercrombie and Fitch pic.twitter.com/QvbRvhjgyL— kieran•? (@wa11fl0wer) May 10, 2013
It’s doubtful that Mike Jeffries had a change of heart. Their new and improved policies have more to do with profit than PR.
The retailer faced a double-digit drop in quarterly same-store sales and is likely to encounter a tough holiday season. So it makes sense that it would want to cater to a wider market by ‘expanding’ (no pun intended) women's collection to sizes larger than 10.
If better PR was the goal than perhaps the company should consider improving conditions for its employees.
The brand has been in hot water for the unconventional, and often unreasonable, stipulations it puts on its employees, which run the gamut from wardrobe requirements to physical appearance.
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Going back to the laundry list of lawsuits the company has faced, a discrimination charge filed by Jeffries’ private jet’s pilot last year shed light on the crazy restrictions imposed on Air Abercrombie. Flight crew had to wear A&F apparel (polo shirts, jeans, briefs and flip flops), black gloves for handling silverware and white to lay the table while also expected to fold the end of the toilet paper roll.
Here’s what one Twitter user had to say on the new plus size policy:
Abercrombie & Fitch started making plus sized clothing. Now people of every shape and size can look like a tool #ThanksAbercrombie— Taylor Singleton (@Gaylor_Gang) November 15, 2013
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Fortunately, fashion brands and retailers are increasingly catering to bigger sized people. It would be foolish not to.
The U.S adult obesity rate is over 30% with the rest of the world not far behind. According to a recent report, obesity ratio across the globe is alarming with Mexico following US at 24.2% . The UK, Slovakia, Greece and Australia are catching up.
Now Abercrombie & Fitch has decided to join the bandwagon. Should it be given a medal for looking out for its profits?
To see how customers will respond to A&F’s plus-size line, one will have to wait for spring of 2014.
However, to overhaul their policies and discriminatory attitude, they need to come up with a better promotional campaign than just a few extra sizes.