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Abercrombie Revisited: Our Complicity in the Dark Side of Capitalism

Oh, big surprise, I know: we've found more evidence that Abercrombie & Fitch is a slimeball of a company.  Last week Business Insider released an article detailing that A&F "doesn't stock XL or XXL sizes in women's clothing because they don't want overweight women wearing their brand." The article cited quotations from a 2006 Salon article  in which the company's CEO Michael Jeffries stated the company's philosophy with mind-boggling frankness:  

“...we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that...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, and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely." 

Blah blah blah, evil corporations, nothing is new under the sun, right?

But this story stuck in the back of my head, my subconscious nibbling away at it, bothered by...something.  Or somethings. The story is troubling on a few levels.

First, you have the basic precepts on which capitalism and free markets are based: sell what you want, to whomever you want; the dollar is our only law.  For such a system, the questions "can we?" and "should we?" are simply rolled into the question of "will it make money?"  Perhaps I am oversimplifying, but the fact that a company like A&F can exist (and thrive!) when it has been sued for institutionalized racism and sexism and has published quarterly magalogs that cater soft pornography, sex tips, and cocktail recipes to teenagers is a disturbing tribute to the problematic side of take-no-prisoners, free-market capitalism.

But multibillion-dollar corporations don't reach such heights without massive consumer support. Who, ultimately, is to blame for A&F's success?  We are. We, the consumers who have bought their overpriced merchandise because we've given in to their "cool kid" gospel. We, the consumers who haven't bought their merchandise, but have tolerated their discrimination against people who don't fall within the traditional western standards of beauty and attractiveness, and their their brazen objectification of those who do.  As Rob Tanner says in this Forbes article, "If we want Abercrombie & Fitch to change, then we need to start by changing our own’s unrealistic to expect [companies] to carry the primary burden when ultimately how they market to us is largely a reflection of what they have learned we desire."

It's good that this latest episode is making people angry.  It's good that this is being brought to light.  It's good that this is making people take action (although whether or not their methods are the best route is another question).

A&F has survived PR kerfuffles like this before.  Chances are, the current public outrage will blow over in a few weeks and things will return to business as usual.  But this is a good opportunity for us to stop and reflect: both on the capitalist system that this country thrives on, and our own contribution to our nation's moral climate that often fails to curtail capitalism's darker side.


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