Go into any Abercrombie and Fitch store and the immaculately looking shop assistants that float by might make you think you were wondering around the streets of Hollywood. Everything about them is perfect and when the chiselled male employees walk around shirtless you can, again, forget you’re actually in a clothes store.
The brand is famous and the clothes are ludicrously expensive – the ultimate in preppy American glossiness that fills our TV screens, from Gossip Girl to One Tree Hill. They’re all wearing it and the company prides itself on its image of perfect white teeth and tans.
The company’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, is a super polished gentleman in his mid-60s, who while explaining the A&F brand once said: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids.”
It’s the cool kids who are wearing A&E and the brand represents a uniform for upper-class college kids. A hoody might set you back £60 but the company needs to charge prices like this so they can afford to pay off all the lawsuits they seem to fall into.
In 2005 they had to pay $50m of a class action lawsuit brought by ethnic minorities claiming the company only hired white employees.
In 2002 when they released the ‘ironically’ named t-shirt slogan, ‘Two Wongs can make it White’ more criticism was voiced against the supposedly upstanding American company.
Again the company fell into trouble this year when they hired law student Riam Dean, 22, as a shop assistant in their London store. They obviously didn’t think her look was appropriate to the shop floor and forced her to work in the store cupboard.
Miss Dean has a prosthetic limb and when the managers found out they pushed her out of sight and she sued them for disability discrimination.
She was awarded £7,800 compensation for injury to her feelings, £1,077 for loss of earnings, and £136 damages.
A&F’s look policy states employees “should represent A&F with natural, classic American style consistent with the company’s brand” and “look great while exhibiting individuality”. Individuality – surely a prosthetic limb is the ultimate in individuality?
Marketing is huge to A&F and their sister store Holister, but the company is continually linked to race controversy. If you’re buying from A&F you are in turn paying off their lawsuits.
The price they charge for their ultra washed, slightly cooler than Gap, jeans is so high to allow the company to buy their way out of court.
Do you really need a look to be a shop assistant? Fashion is a ridiculous business, but the reason it is so lucrative is because it is selling an image and A&F are extending this into their shops.
A&F have their own standards but so do all fashion shops. Miss Dean is an example of unfair, disability discrimination and what some might hope is a wake up call to this fashion giant. But they have survived lawsuits before and if people still keep buying into the unrealistic A&F image, it is unlikely their policy will change.