Friday, May 17, 2013

In Defense of Jeffries

This is weird. I rarely write about anything controversial. I think it is my middle-child status. You know, as a middle child you instinctively try to make everyone happy. You strive to be the balance in the family between the Type A big sister and needy little brother. Middle children are peacemakers. Generally speaking, we are aren't boat rockers or instigators, we go with the flow.

I called this blog "In Defense of Jeffries" but before you rip me a new one, hear me out.

Let me begin by saying that I pretty much have always disliked Abercrombie & Fitch. I have never liked what they stood for even before what they stood for was spelled out for me so clearly. It is not my style. I realize I am pretty far outside their demographic (by about 20 years now). I never liked the image they portrayed, it is an image that I personally never wanted to be associated with. I am indifferent to a lot of clothing brands, it is rare that one would rub me the wrong way like A&F always has, even when I was younger and more closely associated with their target market.

With that being said, I think all the controversy about Mike Jeffries is being blown way out of proportion.

I read a lot of blogs by (mostly) women fighting back about his discrimination of overweight people. I read these articles and agreed with every word they said. What a jerk! How could he say those things? How does he get away with this? You go girl! It reinforced what I thought about the brand anyway. Yay! Hate!

Then, I did something crazy. Instead of relying on Facebook memes (and there are some funny ones!) and blog posts for my information, I read the actual article about Mike Jeffries that is causing the controversy. Despite what some these blog posts insinuate, he never said that he or his company hated fat people. There is a lot of misguided information that is being perpetuated based on assumptions made by people who only read the media headlines, skimmed the surface of the information available, and relied on other people's opinions in order to form their own.

“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 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. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either."

At worst, I think Jeffries is so far removed from reality that his knowledge of what "popular kids" are like is based solely on television shows like 90210 (Can I reference the 1990 version or does that date me too much?). I can guarantee that cool, attractive, popular kids with great attitudes come in all shapes and sizes. Anyone who thinks that only model-beautiful kids are popular spends too much time watching teen dramas on TV.  Personality usually breeds popularity.

So in this article at least, the one that is drumming up all this controversy, he never said he or his company hated anyone. It was the media who created sensational headlines like "Abercrombie & Fitch CEO explains Why He Hates Fat Chicks." When you click on the article, he said no such thing. It was a headline designed to get you to read the article, and when you read the article, you kind of forget he never really said that. In fact the controversial quote in that article was actually by Robin Lewis, author of The New Rules of Retail.  The words 'Fat Chicks' were never used in any quote, just the media headline.

Abercrombie & Fitch has a target market. All retailers do. I read that they don't make women's pant sizes over size 10 and tops over size large. It is really not that unusual. Have you ever heard of the store 5-7-9? (Wait, am I dating myself again?) They only sold sizes 5-7-9 (I think 0-3 too, but that would have made for a silly store name). Were they discriminating against people who wore size 11 and up? Were angry bloggers writing open letters to their CEO? No. Lane Bryant only sells large sizes. No one is upset about that. But would people be upset if their CEO said in print that skinny was ugly and they didn't want to market to that crowd? They probably would.

I do not think that it is their business practice that is making people angry. It is the fact that he admitted it with such arrogance, and then the media got a hold of it and twisted the story for their advantage.

A lot of companies target certain niche demographics and there is nothing wrong with that. It is business. It is called marketing. A lot of companies market their brand as aspirational and try to create an exclusionary brand (usually the exclusion is to the people who can't afford it). This is nothing new or unusual.

Is Jeffries a jerk? Yeah, based on the article I read, I'd say so. Is he a jerk because he doesn't sell larger sizes in his stores? I am going to say no. Maybe he should not have said it so arrogantly, as to cause so much stir. But then again, he probably did it on purpose to cause a stir. Any press is good press, right? Is all this a publicity stunt to garner interest in the retailer? Maybe. After all, even I am talking about it and I can't stand this brand.

Besides, Jeffries made me laugh once, don't we all remember the time he offered to pay "the Situation" from Jersey Shore to STOP wearing his clothes? And that guy has defined abs. HA!

If you disagree with me, be easy on me in the comments.  Remember, I am a middle child, I am sensitive. :)

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Keep Running,

Lea

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6 comments :

  1. This is a great perspective and you make some great points! A) about media and spinning headlines and b) about marketing and c) about popular kids coming in all shapes and sizes. I totally agree with all of that. My daughter is 15 and a bigger girl. She is bubbly, funny and well-liked. I have waited for the dreaded moment where someone hurts her because of her size, but because (I think) she is so outgoing and confident it has not happened (that we know of, thank goodness). What I fear though, the most, is perceptions like this narrow minded guy becoming the norm and that beautiful personality and confidence she has being dimmed and tarnished. That is why I hated what he said. I supported the backlash against him because any speaking out against any type of group is detrimental, in my opinion. I agree he is arrogant, but I also think he is very self righteous and has potential to break a lot of spirits. Boo A&F!

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  2. I have never liked A&F either. But I see where you are coming from too. I noticed what Jen said, that he "spoke out" against a type of people--but I am not convinced that he actually spoke out against a group of people, although he insinuated that larger kids are not cool. Really, I just think it was a marketing ploy and the guy is a jerk and we shouldn't be giving him the time of day. That's all it comes down to. By paying more attention to him and what he said, we are essentially giving him what he wants and WE are insinuating that he is worth our time.
    He's not.
    Just don't let your kids shop there.
    And, the store as a company represents way worse than what he said. If you ask me, theres some borderline child pornography in his store (just speaking from when I went into the store about ten years ago and saw the pictures of the models in his store--that was the ONLY time I ever was in his store). Why are we just now so worried about what he insinuates about larger kids when he has all along allowed these images to exist, which in my book is way WORSE than saying a fat kid can't be popular.

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  3. Great post, Lea! I've never been a huge fan of A&F, but mostly because it was too expensive for my blood. I love the comparisons you make to 5-7-9 and Lane Bryant. It's definitely not unusual for a clothing company to market to certain demographics.

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  4. You do make some good points. A&F never registered on my radar even when I was in those demographics. I hate their ads and choose not to spend my money there, and that was long before this mess started. :-)

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  5. I love the post! Completely agree with you. I myself was one of the girls who when I was younger (and still very focused on being in the 'cool group') wanted to be in those clothes but was on the upper side of the range and felt like I wasn't meant to be in them.

    Every business has to have a strategy. We don't need to agree with it, or like it. But at least they know what they're going after.

    And just fyi....I absolutely LOVE the fact that you mention 5-7-9....is it sad I can still very CLEARLY remember when Dominique Moceanu (USA Gymnast..just in case you don't know her by name) was the cover girl for their branding? Hhahah made me want those clothes SO badly! :)
    I have no qualms of owning up to it...my dance students point out my age every day at this point. hahah :)

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