It’s been a rough month for trendy retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.
First, seven-year-old comments from CEO Mike Jeffries–he told Salon in 2006 that A&F “[goes] after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” continuing, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong.”–went viral, bringing the company under fire from angry consumers.
Then, just last Friday, A&F reported a first quarter loss of $7.2 million–which caused its stocks to tank by more than 10%. And those numbers were pre-backlash. So if Abercombie execs were thinking that it couldn’t really get worse, they’re bound to be sorely disappointed by the latest news picking up steam.
Former Abercombie employee Kjerstin Gruys wrote a piece for Salon recounting her time working at A&F corporate. Her story is part of a larger narrative about the sizing issues currently plaguing American retail, but naturally it’s her quote about the Abercrombie work environment that’s garnering the attention of sites like Jezebel.
“Employees were expected to dress “on brand” at work, which meant always wearing A&F clothes from the current season,” Gruys says, continuing:
“I squeezed myself into the second-largest A&F women’s size available–an 8–and dieted to stay that size. It terrified me to know that if I gained weight and sized out of their women’s clothes, I’d have to wear ill-fitting men’s T-shirts and sweatshirts to work every day, as I’d seen other ‘large’ women do.”
There’s also a really fascinating figure by Gruys in the piece: She crunches the numbers on the largest size A&F offers–a 12, which clocks in at a waist measurement of 31 inches–and concludes that, with the CDC calculating that an average waist size for a 19-year-old woman is 33.6, the average 19-year-old woman can’t fit into Abercrombie & Fitch.
After the storm of protests about Jeffries’s 2006 comments, A&F released an apology and met with teen protesters. A spokesperson had this to say after their meeting:
We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion. We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values.
They have not yet acknowledged Gruys’s claims regarding the corporate dress code; we have reached out to an A&F spokesperson and will update with any statement from them.
(It is worth noting here that is isn’t all negative news coming from Abercrombie & Fitch–the retailer was one of the first American companies to sign on to the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord.)
It remains to be seen if this PR nightmare will be enough to change the sizing policy at Abercrombie & Fitch. After all, it’s Jeffries’s company, and his prerogative as a business owner to cater to–or, in Jeffries’s case, ignore–the customers he wants in his stores. And another recent consumer push, which involved a viral Change.org petition asking Victoria’s Secret to carry mastectomy bras, didn’t result in any product change.
In the end, the consumer has the power. There are enough stores out there pedaling run-of-the-mill graphic tees and destroyed jeans that if you think Jeffries is an asshole, you can take your money elsewhere.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Abercrombie & Fitch has sent us the following statement:
Abercrombie & Fitch does not require its associates to purchase clothes from the Company, nor to wear the Company’s clothes unless the clothes are given to them. In addition, Abercrombie does not require women to wear men’s clothes. The Company respects each associate’s individuality, but like any other corporation, the associate dress policy requires that employees dress in a respectful, professional manner.