An online article accusing Mike Jeffries, CEO of controversial US clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch, of excluding larger sized customers and catering only to “thin and beautiful” people, has created a global publicity crisis for the company.
The remarks, by Robin Lewis, author of The New Rules of Retail, were given in an interview with Business Insider, published on the elitedaily.com website on 3 May, and swiftly seized upon and widely circulated online in articles headlined “Abercrombie and Fitch CEO says he hates fat chicks”
The escalation culminated in the story being picked up by the world’s most trafficked news website, MailOnline, which ran it on Tuesday in coverage headlined: 'Thin and beautiful' customers ONLY: How Abercrombie & Fitch doesn't want 'larger people' shopping in its stores. One tweeter in California with almost 300,000 followers (@playgrounddad) called for an organised boycott of the store.
The actual quoted remarks from Robin Lewis are somewhat more circumspect.
“He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people,” Lewis is quoted.
“He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing. People who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the ‘cool kids.’”
The clothing brand has often courted controversy. It’s Ashley’ push-up bikini for girls aged between eight and 14 was voted as the product flop of the year by Yahoo Finance's 24/7 Wall Street. In 2009 it lost a legal action and was obliged to pay £9000 (UK) compensation after losing a case brought by a student who wore a prosthetic arm, who claimed she was discriminated against for not conforming to the firm’s policy on staff appearance.
It has also been criticised for calling its staff 'models', and for its erotically charged advertising which has drawn complaints from family interest groups.
CEO Mike Jeffries is quoted on the firm’s website affirming the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“Diversity and inclusion are key to our organization’s success,” he says.
“We are determined to have a diverse culture, throughout our organization, that benefits from the perspectives of each individual.”
The Drum contacted Abercrombie and Fitch to request Mr Jeffries' input, but had received no response at the time of going to press.