Abercrombie & Fitch has locked itself into a predicament of XXL proportions.
A Philadelphia-based writer's open letter to CEO Mike Jeffries detailing her experiences on what is was like to be bullied in high school by kids who wore A&F clothing is gaining national media attention.
In an emotionally-winded draft that made its way onto the Internet last Thursday, 27-year-old Colleen Radano wrote to Jeffries, "You see, it was the kids wearing your clothing who thought they were so unstoppably 'cool' (because you told them they are) that they could therefore harass girls all throughout our class-- girls of all different shapes and sizes."
Business Insider recently connected Jeffries' comments in a 2006 interview with Salon on wanting "cool kids" to wear Abercrombie & Fitch and the brand's projections of rail-thin females and chiseled male models, to the retailer's apparent lack of women's XL and XXL sizes as indicative of its unwanted clientele. He was quoted in that infamous interview-that-won't-go-away, "We go after the cool kids," in response to a question regarding his brand's target demographic. "A lot of people don't belong, and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."
Exclusionary to whom? According to Radano, who I spoke to Monday, these kids don't need to be a size XL to be snubbed by the brand. They can be "gay, plus-size, or simply deemed 'uncool' because they're not the all-American kid with washboard abs," she says.
"I initially had nothing really to say," she continues. "It's easy to come to target me as an overweight, plus-sized, bitter person from high school," but Radano says that's just not the case. She mustered up the courage to share her story after realizing that the brand has indirectly bred bullies by setting a threshold or standard of coolness based on a small set of factors.
Radano, a Fairmount resident who works in advertising as a media buyer, says her friends and family have been most supportive with her public post. In the letter, Radano shares her experiences of being bullied by the "cool kids" who wore Abercrombie in high school. "I attended a private Catholic high school in the tri-state area," she says. "On the days I didn't wear uniforms, and the kids who wore the [A&F] clothes during lunch threw pretzels at me during lunch." Some of these same figures still haunt her.
"I received a social media message from one of these bullies just last year, with a wink face," she wrote in her letter. "It was a cruel reminder, a hurtful flashback.. a wink is all it takes to tell me, almost TEN YEARS after high-school graduation and the last time we saw each other, that he still is teasing me, he is still mean, he is still a bully, he is still SO COOL, and he wanted me to know."
She tells me they are no longer friends on the social networking site. When asked if she's ever shopped at Abercrombie, Radano responds, "I didn't want to look like the kids who were mean to me."
Abercrombie, for one, has a history of meticulously monitoring who wears its clothing. There was that Situation with Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino in August 2011, when the clothing brand offered to pay the producers of MTVs Jersey Shore untold amounts of cash in an attempt to halt the reality TV star from touting its brand on air. "We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans," a rep stated in a press release titled, "A Win-Win Situation."
Last Wednesday, Jeffries issued a statement which was posted to A&F's Facebook site:
"I want to address some of my comments that have been circulating from a 2006 interview. While I believe this 7 year old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense," he said. "A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers. However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. We hire good people who share these values. We are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behavior based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics."
What does the word, "aspirational," mean to Abercrombie & Fitch? We've reached out to the brand for a request to comment, though the retailer has not responded yet. For many consumers, a verbal apology simply does not ameliorate the years of pain indirectly imposed upon consumers by the brand. They are demanding the retailer stock its shelves with women's XL and XXL sizes.
"Even though I may have just been writing [the post] for myself, there was someone out there who may have experienced something similar in the past," says Radano. "If Mike Jeffries is going to be mean, I'm going to be nice."