As soon as "White Fashion: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch" aired, the topic immediately emerged, why did A&F, with more than 120 stores around the world and an annual turnover of more than $300 million, become the most hated brand in the United States? How important is DEI to a brand?
Images | provided by Netflix
Do you have the once-popular Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) clothes? I have, and more than one.
In 2014, I first stepped into A&F's flagship store in Hong Kong, a four-story storefront with ornate colonnades and arches.
As soon as you walk in, the lights are dim and psychedelic, several crystal chandeliers are hanging, the stairs are covered with red carpets, the walls are full of murals of naked men, the air is filled with cologne, musk scent, and the music is deafening.
If I hadn't said it was a clothing store, I would have thought I had come to a nightclub.
I had no crush on muscular naked men, and I learned about the brand through my boyfriend at the time.
Boys seem to have a kind of fanaticism for A&F, wearing a tight and close-fitting T-shirt and showing off the A&F logo with a large chest, as if transforming into the most popular cool child in american dramas, no one can stop this fantasy.
I didn't know at the time that on the other side of the globe, the United States, where A&F originated, had already seen a wave of opposition rise, leading to the decline of A&F, and even in 2016 it was selected as "the most hated retail brand among Americans."
From a century-old outdoor brand, transform into a sexy youth indicator
Photo| Tachi Images/Reuters
The recent Netflix episode of White Fashion: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch chronicles the rise of A&F from 1990 to its decline due to exclusivity and discrimination controversies.
Speaking of A&F, you must be the first to think of that classic naked male paper bag, right? Obviously, it is a brand that sells clothing, but the models often do not wear clothes.
The person who gave A&F a sexy, wild, youthful carnal image was CEO Mike Jeffries, who has been in office since the 1990s.
A&F was originally a century-old outdoor brand, focusing on middle-aged men. Mac Jeffrey reinvented it as a brand "dedicated to American cool kids," the most popular figures in school, typically white, with boys having to be strong football players and girls skinny cheerleaders.
This "exclusivity strategy" was so successful in the 1990s that A&F became a must-wear brand for everyone, and owning an A&F represents you at the forefront of fashion.
In 1996, A&F became a public company with more than 120 stores worldwide and an annual turnover of more than $300 million.
Behind the brand's success, there is also photographer Bruce Weber, who captures the youthful flesh of male and female models, telling the public: "What is A&F, what is not A&F", those nude male photos displayed in the store, is from his hand.
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Discriminatory speech and exclusion of employees of color have triggered a wave of backlash
Images | provided by Netflix
A&F gained momentum, but things began to change in the 2000s.
The first is the controversy over a series of T-shirts launched by A&F, which depicts several phoenix-eyed Asians who work as laundry and carmen, which are clearly stereotyped by the Asian community. The move sparked the anger of Asian students, who surrounded A&F stores in protest, and A&F couldn't stop the anger and recycled and burned all the clothes, but when the publicist came out and spoke, he said, "We thought Asians would love these T-shirts."
Discrimination is not only in the design of clothing, but also in the screening of employees.
At A&F, there is a "Handbook for Employee Appearance Selection", which directly states that employees cannot tie reggae heads or wear gold necklaces, and must be a classic "American image". The image of the United States they identified was that of a tall, handsome, white, thin, and beautiful white man.
The store manager must rate the appearance of the employee and send the employee's "photo" back to the headquarters for review to ensure that the clerk is the handsome and beautiful woman they want. Employees who don't meet the criteria are assigned to clean at night or go to work in the warehouse.
In 2003, nine employees filed a lawsuit against A&F for firing or not hiring them because they were not white. One Asian-American man said the manager's reason for rejecting his job offer was: "We already have too many Filipinos working in the shop." And he never said he was Filipino.
Eventually, A&F settled, paid $50 million in damages, and signed a consent decree agreeing to hire a "Director of Diversity" to change A&F.
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Increase the proportion of employees of color, but the number of senior employees has not changed
Todd Corley, A&F's director of diversity, is a black man who, since taking office in 2004, has focused on A&F's workforce, increasing non-white employees from less than 10 percent to 53 percent in 2011.
A&F began shooting commercials, inviting employees of all colors to present the brand's image of diversity and integration in front of the screen.
However, the top personnel and the board of directors, who have substantive decision-making power, are still composed of the original white members. The change is only superficial, just whitewashing, A&F still believes that it is not wrong.
Images | provided by Netflix
In 2013, CEO Mike Jeffrey dug up an article interviewed in which he bluntly said, "Are we exclusive?" Of course!" "Not everyone can wear our clothes, and I don't want everyone to wear our clothes." "Our clothes are for cool Kids in America!"
Advocate Benjamin O'keefe launched a series of petitions, more than a thousand people responded, people's anger was ignited, and for a while A&F became a street rat, no longer the coolest brand in the hearts of young people.
In 2014, Mike Jeffrey resigned as CEO, and A&F, which was once caused by "exclusivity", finally collapsed because the times were no longer compatible with discrimination.
In 2017, A&F photographer Bruce Weber was also accused of sexual harassment by multiple male models: "We were invited to dinner at his house, and if we didn't go, we lost our job opportunities." "He said I was very tight, so he leaned close to me, he said he was going to do 'breathing exercises,' and at the moment my whole body froze." They were even asked to masturbate in front of themselves.
With the headlines pouring in, it's no wonder that A&F ended up being the most hated retail brand for Americans.
Clothing is not only clothing, but also shapes the social culture
Trying to put a new image on the brand and turn the tide, in 2014, A&F launched large-size clothing, and also announced that it would no longer focus on sexy nudity, and found models with various faces.
Now open the A&F official website, the first thing that catches the eye is a dark-skinned black model with a reggae head tied to it. The brand description reads: "We lead communion and creative belonging."
Image | A&F website
From the rise and fall of A&F to the transformation, in just three decades, we have witnessed that the world is changing, and diversity and inclusion are the aspirations and visions of this generation.
Companies that can see different ethnic groups and incorporate them into their business philosophy will be the success trend of the future.
As the documentary concludes: "Clothing companies need to know how important they are, they shape the culture, they shape the dialogue, they shape who is valued in society."
What kind of world do you want to shape in every trendsetting industry?
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