A&F: The Plastic People

So, if you caught the news today, you probably heard all the hubbub about Abercrombie & Fitch. The short story:  I guess the CEO of A&F, Mike Jeffries made some controversial comments around what kind of people are worthy to shop and wear their brand — you know, the beautiful people, the thin and popular people — the plastic people — they don’t want anyone else wearing their clothing and influencing their brand in a bad way. You know, because in this economy, you can take that stand, right? And, it’s okay to say that kind of thing publicly, because you’re some big CEO-type. Do you really need to make statements like that to make yourself feel better? You must be one miserable guy.

I read lots of letters and articles written to Mike Jeffries, and I have to say, they have been some of the best quick reads on the subject. I was literally laughing out loud while watching the Pens game tonight. At one point, I had to double check the one author, because I could swear the humor and sarcasm of this story was written by an old friend of mine — but was written by Shelia Moeschen, a writer for the Huffington Post. Just brilliantly and eloquently put, gaining momentum with each sentence! Or this one, also from Huffington Post by Amy Taylor. I was laughing just reading the comments sections of the story! My favorite was by a woman [screen name Meanie Smith] who wrote, “…Since I wear a size 20, I am going to actively hurt the A&F image by purchasing two shirts from A&F and sewing them together. Try and stop me.” Brilliant. Hysterical. Great comeback! And, I hope that Mike Jeffries is regretting his comments and squirming in his seat — but I doubt it — because he’s one of those cocky-types who could never do that (the same type of guys that park in my Reserved Parking space everyday). Okay, I promise to let that go one day.

Some people may say this whole story was conjured up to start a controversy and get a ton of free publicity for them — while solidifying the 3% of consumers who actually fit the “washboard-type stomachs” image — well, I beg to differ (plus I ask myself — is it really as high as 3%?)  Negative publicity is never a good thing — not on this scale. It’s never a good thing for anyone to side with the “mean girls” or to openly flaunt that you cater to only beautiful people — plastic people. Some of the most wonderful and shared stories of the year involve positive marketing campaigns. Take Dove’s Real Beauty campaign for instance. It’s about celebrating how beautiful everyone is. And more and more brands are supporting a positive image for teenagers — why must there always be someone that wants to take a step backwards? Or is he really just that ignorant of how hurtful his words really are?

I can’t say that I’ve never said anything mean about anyone, and I doubt anyone else can either. But the older I get and the more I realize what’s important in life, I just don’t ever want to waste my energy again on something that hurts someone else — especially not when I’ve been on the receiving end far too often. This man is influencing all those women who already have low self-esteem, struggling with anorexia or bulimia or being overweight. It’s not okay!  It’s not okay, Mike Jeffries — shame on you! Wow, I’m saying that far too often these days.

What this guy doesn’t get (and will probably never get in this lifetime) is that lifting people up, encouraging people and giving them hope only inspires you to do more of that. Because, you can’t buy this at a store or perfect it in a mirror — it’s something that comes from somewhere inside of you. And other people are encouraged by it — and it becomes like a giant snowball that gets rolling downhill, growing in size and speed — of pure goodness. That’s not something you can buy at A&F — or probably find anywhere in their corporate culture.

Imagine you’re the brand that puts the clothes on a girl of any size and she looks in that mirror and feels beautiful. Or that quirky girl who can embrace her spirit by wearing a brand that allows her to be herself. Or the nerdy guy, who loves your brand, just because he’s comfortable — one day he may find the cure for cancer. That is the future of a successful brand. One that values diversity in all that it means — and embraces individualism, while supporting a strong code of ethics — a brand that supports real people — and not the plastic ones.

Let me know your thoughts!