Which Is Worse: Tone-Deaf Abercrombie or the Viral 'Fitch the Homeless' Response?

Alexander Abad-Santos
Which Is Worse: Tone-Deaf Abercrombie or the Viral 'Fitch the Homeless' Response?

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries might want only "cool, good-looking people" to wear his brand's clothes, and his stores' anti-plus size policy is definitely making people upset this week. Except the most popular response so far — getting back at A&F by handing out its clothes to homeless people and filming them for all the Internet to see — isn't exactly the answer. Turns out the worst way to fight The Man marginalizing the "rest of us" is for some guy to go on YouTube marginalizing the "lesser" people of society. And it turns out you can hate The Man and the viral guy just as much.

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Over the years, Jeffries and his preppy clothing chain have been chastised for everything from being racist to selling padded push-up bras for 7-year-olds. But over the course of this week, rage bubbled again after a New York Daily News report revealed that the largest size for women's clothing at Abercrombie stores these days is a size 10 — and that there were no XL sizes for women to be found. A major retail analyst told Business Insider that Jeffries "doesn't want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people."

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Reactions to Abercrombie's store policies against plus-size women drew ire from the likes of Jezebel's Lindy West, who wrote: "Well, at least the feeling is mutual, Abercrombie. I don't want my body's personal brand associated with your creepypredatorybedbug-infestedbigotedracist garbage clothes anyway." Even Kirstie Alley got in on the Abercrombie slam fest. "That would make me never buy anything from Abercrombie even if I was cool and thin. I got two kids in that [age] bracket that will never walk in those doors because of his view of people," Alley told Entertainment Tonight.

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Since Jeffries hasn't been responding to requests for comment this week — and since he never really does — an interview with Salon from 2006 has resurfaced in a major way. Here's what Jeffries had to say about A&D's marketing and hiring practices back then (emphasis ours):

It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.

Jeffried added:

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 [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.

In response to the resurgence of Abercrombie's credo of exclusion, Los Angeles-based writer Greg Karber created a "Fitch the Homeless" video just made to go viral. In the two-and-a-half-minute clip, published to YouTube on Monday, Karber walks around handing Abercrombie clothes to people on Skid Row in Los Angeles, in an effort to clothe people he presumed Jeffries would find uncool and not good-looking while wearing them: 

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Maybe that's appealing if you watch it once, but "Abercrombie & Fitch Gets a Brand Readjustment #FitchTheHomeless" has now been viewed more than 4.5 million times and counting. Karber has gotten attention from CNN and Katie Couric, among others. And on social media, it's getting kudos. "My girlfriend and I are donating all our Abercrombie & Fitch clothes to a homeless shelter. Eat a bag of dicks Michael Jeffries!" is the title of one of the more popular threads on Reddit.

So what happens when you make homeless people the butt of a joke about not-skinny good-looking people? Thomas L. Mcdonald at Patheos, a site devoted to the conversation on faith religion, says it breeds more marginalizing behavior — maybe even worse:

This stunt is based on the exact same premise offered by Jeffries: that some people are "unworthy" to wear A&F clothes. The hipster doofus handing out A&F clothing to people on the street is doing it because he accepts the notion that they’re somehow lesser than "the rest of us." His stunt has no bite without this assumption.

And Sara Luckey at Feminspire points out that part of that "lesser than 'the rest of us'" sentiment plays on the troublesome idea of the homeless being some sort of repulsive "other": 

By attempting to make a brand look bad by associating it with homelessness, the message is that homeless people are so gross, dirty, shameful (insert negative attribute here) that by associating the brand with these types of people, we are really making the brand look shitty, because these people are so shitty! get it? It’s all such a laugh!


Sub out “homeless” for any other minority group and see how that sounds and feels. Pretty shitty, right? 

Luckey and McDonald have a point: this viral joke doesn't feel like the right kind of retribution. Did Karber ever think this through, or was he just trying to have easy fun at the expense of A&F? (He hasn't responded to requests for comments from The Atlantic Wire.) Karber encouraged Abercrombie clothing donations, but perhaps the more twisted legacy of his attempt will be making himself look as insensitive as the A&F chief he's targeting. Of course, there wouldn't be so many YouTube plays and upvotes if people didn't actually think he was some kind of right. But when the joke relies on hurtful depictions of people out there, that's also some kind of wrong.