Back in the 2000s, there were few everyday fashion brands as cool as Manhattan’s Abercrombie and Fitch. Featuring everywhere from song lyrics to celebrity wardrobes and some of the most exclusive storefronts in the world, it seemed that the brand would never go out of style.
Things changed. After a mid 2010’s demolishing of A&F’s reputation through tons of employee abuse stories, Netflix recently sealed the nail in the brand’s coffin with their recent documentary, WhiteHotdirected by Alison Klayman.
Along with its fame, the brand and its CEO Mike Jeffries ushered in a core idea that WhiteHot keenly explored – that if you weren’t good looking, you weren’t good enough to wear A&F. This wasn’t just about fitting a particular aesthetic – although that certainly was key – Jeffries’ philosophy targeted everything from body shape to race, shoving several employees under the rug in the process.
Jeffries himself features heavily in the documentary’s footage reels – which focus on unearthing his obsession with – well, hot white guys. In a now-infamous interview from 2006, he said:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” Jeffries said. “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 excluded? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla.”
This sounds like fair business practice – but under the surface, managers were told to hire with a strong ethnical bias – fostering a toxic work environment that led to a US Supreme Court case in 2015 for refusing to hire a person who wore a hijab. Just check this shot from the documentary, which focuses on a set of instructions for hiring managers:
— mcsandfilms (@mcsandfilms) April 20, 2022
Yep – pretty racist.
The prejudice also worked its way into the company’s designer teams – the early 2000s were littered with designs that enforced Asian stereotypes. One particularly egregious example comes from circa 2002 – a t-shirt that reads “Wong Brothers laundry service — Two Wongs can make it white.”
Naturally, Twitter celebrated the documentary’s recent success – several praised the brave efforts of Carla Barrientos, Dr. Anthony Ocampo, and Jennifer Sheahan – three ex-employees who fought against the company’s racist policies and were interviewed by the production team.
watching #WhiteHot and cheering for the bravery of Carla Barrientos, Dr. @anthonycampoand Jennifer Sheahan, the former Abercrombie employees who spoke out against discrimination and paved the way for change
White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is now streaming pic.twitter.com/ZBYsLInOqv
— Golden (@netflixgolden) April 19, 2022
Others got together to share their own experiences with the brand – posting old teenage photos and sharing their regret for shopping at A&F:
I’m watching the Abercrombie and Fitch documentary and it’s giving me ptsd. I thought having this in my room was such a flex I fucking hated this time in my life. #AbercrombieAndFitch pic.twitter.com/QMCZdgb1Ua
— Amy O’Brien (@NinjaErtel) April 20, 2022
I use to spend all my money and my mom’s money on #AbercrombieAndFitch
— Carrie Bradshaw-Preston (@HtineBee) April 21, 2022
Today, the brand has largely tried to reverse this image ever since Jeffries stepped down in 2014, after two decades of instilling a toxic brand ideology:
UPDATE: Abercrombie was so shook that people remember their decades of mess, crimes against fashion, and etc. they put not one, but TWO whole black folks on the homepage #AbercrombieAndFitch #whitehot pic.twitter.com/yQQ7LvkRWo
— IG: Yiemajohn (yee-ma) (@yiemaj) April 21, 2022
For most of us, it’s too little too late.
(Featured Image Credits: Netflix)