Whenever I tell people I once worked at Abercrombie & Fitch, I usually get similar responses: “how do you even stand that repugnant music?” “How can you bear that intolerable cologne stench?” or “How do you go about navigating yourself around that gloomy dark store?” Yes, these statements are pretty accurate. Whenever I finished a shift, I would be partially deaf, I would reek for days of Fierce, their signature cologne, and wearing the required flip-flops in the dead of winter was interesting to say the least. In each room at my store, there were automatic boxes that would dispense the Fierce cologne on the hour. We would also be required to spray the cologne in the fitting rooms and other places that were possibly lacking sufficient amounts of Fierce. If you have never been inside an Abercrombie & Fitch store, count your blessings. Writer Terry McCoy humorously described that the place “definitely kills one’s ability to form coherent, logical thought. No one has ever discussed matters of philosophy or the status of Iran’s nuclear capabilities within its confines. Everything’s dark and loud and confusing.” However, after being an employee at A&F, I have collected many ridiculous observations that are far worse than the loud thumping music or nauseating cologne.
The CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jefferies, is notorious for his highly controversial business ethics. Jefferies has unapologetically stated, “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.”
This sort of exclusionary attitude doesn’t just exist outside between the company and the customer, but it also exists within the company among employees and management. When you work at Abercrombie, you are either a “model” or an “impact team member.” The models are just normal sales associates– they fold clothes, open fitting rooms, work the registers, and greet customers. The impact team members work in the back of the store, taking inventory and replenishing the stock room. The difference between these two positions is that the model constantly interacts with customers, while the impact team member rarely ever leaves the stock room. In the past, Abercrombie has faced numerous lawsuits regarding discrimination among its employees. These cases claim that the company purposely places minorities in the stock room. Even after a $50 million dollar settlement and a promise from the company to eliminate segregation, this sort of discrimination sadly still existed in my store. I noticed that the group of impact team members in the stock room was comparably more ethnically diverse than the models out on the store floor. The models were also sorted throughout the store based on physical looks. If you were a male model with six-pack abs, you would be placed at entrance of the store topless, greeting customers with the annoying tagline “Hey what’s up bro! How’s it going?!” If you were not a “pretty” enough model, you would be succumbed to the back stock room as impact, or as far away from the front of the store as possible.
The future of Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t looking too bright. The company’s sales have dropped by 13%, and its lingerie store, Gilly Hicks has been shut down in all shopping malls. The company recently had a widespread public backlash regarding the fact that the store doesn’t sell women’s clothing above a size 10. The national size in the United States for women is a size 14, thus the deliberate exclusion of anything over a size 10 eliminates many potential customers. When Jeffries stated that the company only wanted to market to “the cool kids,” the company lost a substantial amount of potential customers. It will be interesting to see how the company moves in the future.