Abercrombie & Fitch is a fashion icon, or at least it used to be. The clothes have been much sought after, and the company has made huge efforts to keep everything about their brand consistent, stylish and trendy. In their extreme efforts, though, they’ve also experienced a few legal troubles for questionable policies and procedures. It may just go to show that the coolest kids on the block may not be that cool after all!
In fact, more recent controversies have contributing to hemorrhaging profits and a lack of consumer confidence. Just take a look at what it’s like to work at Abercrombie & Fitch. You may just find that you’re glad that you didn’t make it past the first interview, or even get a call back. Or, perhaps, all these juicy details will leave you craving to be a part of the controversial experience that is Abercrombie & Fitch.
Are You A Model?
If you’re really lucky, you may just be one of those customers who are approached by an Abercrombie & Fitch employee who is holding a clipboard. The logical conversation would be about how great you look, and how awesome it would be if you’re interested in joining the Abercrombie & Fitch team.
Of course, if it’s happened to you, you may have either been creeped out or flattered, depending on how A&F’s unorthodox recruiting approach was carried out. It’s also possible that you are one of the (lucky?) individuals who got a job with just such an approach. With all the controversy surrounding their hiring practices, it’s obviously one way that the company can hire people who fit the “look” requirement without worrying too much about being called out for discriminatory hiring practices.
Of course, Abercrombie & Fitch is not alone in their effort to keep costs down. One of the ways they accomplish this goal is by creating schedules that work to keep their employees right on the fringes of part-time oblivion. Why oblivion? You must know that with just the right number of hours, employers don’t have to worry about health-care coverage or many of the other perks that a “full-time” employee might expect.
If you’re surprised by the trend toward part-time, look no farther than the stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’ll find that retailers have cut more a million full-time jobs, and added more than 500,000 part-time jobs. It’s becoming easier for companies like Abercrombie to make the switch, too, since they can track the customer flow more accurately, and thus schedule just enough employees to cover the masses.
Aroma Abercrombie & Fitch
Scientists say that the olfactory senses becomes intensely connected with our sense of memory. That’s why you might smell apple pie, and think of the pie your grandma made when you were a kid. Well, Abercrombie & Fitch has it all wrong. They’ve associated Fierce with their company and brand. They regularly spray it throughout the store, and employees are covered in the stuff, but (from their reports) that’s not a good thing.
For those current and former employees who had positive experiences in working for Abercrombie, it may be that the aroma reinvigorates those most-cherished memories, but for many former employees, the scent incites complaints concerning the way the stuff always made them smell, that it was everywhere, and that it got super old after a while.
There have also been complaints from employees and customers alike about the “perfume pollution.” Yes, not everyone appreciated the noxious smells that are spread like a crop duster. Yeah, there have even been protests…
Employee Body Image?
If customers can’t find sizes at Abercrombie & Fitch that will fit them, you’d think that the company-select employees would (at least) be able to find the perfect clothes for their body types, right? Well, that might not be exactly true.
Former Abercombie employee, and author of Mirror, Mirror Off The Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body by Not Looking at It for a Year, Kjerstin Gruys wrote for Salon: “I squeezed myself into the second-largest A&F women’s size available — an 8 — and dieted to stay that size. It terrified me to know that if I gained weight and sized out of their women’s clothes, I’d have to wear ill-fitting men’s T-shirts and sweatshirts to work every day, as I’d seen other ‘large’ women do.”
It could be that the manager had a lapse in judgement when they hired Gruys, or that he/she really didn’t know how hard it is to fit into company sizes. There could be all sorts of possible reasons why the size consideration was so troublesome.
Clothing Budget Be Damned
Some retailers do require their employees to dress all in brand attire, but it’s not often that the cost for said clothes are as expensive a what employees face at Abercrombie & Fitch. Former Abercombie employee Kjerstin Gruys also claimed that the clothes had to be “from the current season.”
For its part, an Abercrombie & Fitch statement claimed (in a statement to Fashionista.org) that there’s no requirement for associates to purchase or wear clothes from the company, nor to wear men’s clothes.
It’s interesting to note that numerous Abercrombie employees seem to believe and have experienced a very different dress-code policy.
The Way Of The Shoplifters
Former employees generally blame the poor wages, horrible work schedule, lack of health insurance and the poverty-ridden-student status as reasons why they steal from Abercrombie & Fitch, but they claim that it happens a lot. Of course, it’s relatively easy to cover it up, with all the customers who also shoplift. It’s easy to blame the store losses on them.
Once they’ve lifted the clothes and have carted them safely away, employees say that they sell the clothes on eBay or else just wear them. It must be a “young” thing, or perhaps just a certainty that management didn’t care. None of them appear to have imagined that they’d get caught.
It’s All About Sex, Baby
You probably saw the headlines last year, proclaiming that Abercrombie & Fitch would no longer be hiring employees based on their looks. There were also claims that the store layout look-and-feel would change. What does that mean exactly? According to reports, that would mean no more being greeted by a topless “model” store employee when you enter the store, but they also proclaimed that they were changing the sexy branding on the marketing branding.
While some customers are hating the change, it’s something that the employees have expected and anticipated. For one, it’s cold walking around without a shirt, and while the whole topless thing does garner attention, it’s not always the kind you’d want if you were standing out there like a sore thumb.
Fat: It’s Gotta Be Illegal
By now, it’s pretty obvious that it’s a bit more difficult to prove discrimination based on weight. Even if it’s not illegal, and even if all the retailers target certain body types with their hiring practices and with their clothing lines, Abercrombie & Fitch took it a monumental step further.
Yep, they admitted that they don’t offer XL or XXL clothing sizes, telling Salon Magazine that they don’t want to attract the “not-so-cool” kids. Critics have come to call these practices part of the Anti-Fat Campaign, but employees see that it’s really the “Anti-Other” campaign. The size issue may be the most prominent example (it’s easier to attach a tangible example to a store policy of not carrying applicable clothing for diverse body types).
Probably the easiest way to envision the Abercrombie & Fitch sorting policy is to think of Harry Potter and the Hogwarts Sorting Hat. Instead of sorting the students into houses, though, employees say that they are sorted according to their “looks”.
In other words, the most attractive employees are scheduled to be right up front, when a customer enters the story, and then the others can be seen/found as you move further back in the store. So, the more unattractive employees could then be found at the back of the store and/or in the stock room. Out of sight; out of mind.
From a marketing/branding perspective, this sorting technique appears to make sense, particularly since Abercrombie & Fitch has drawn direct correlations between their “look” and the profitability/revenue of the store.
Promises To Improve?
It’s just possible that all the complaints by employees over the years, as well as the numerous lawsuits, have finally awakened Abercrombie & Fitch to the necessity of making improvements. At the very least, they released this statement: “We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion. We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values.”
Of course, their statement was in direct response to the Change.org petition, which generated tens of thousands of signatures, with the demand for the company “[to] stop telling teens they aren’t beautiful; make clothes for teens of all sizes!”
Small size and low weight isn’t the only objective that Abercrombie & Fitch is promoting. It’s also the young, teen-ish customer who’s the focus of their marketing efforts. So, of course, ageism must also come into play. You can’t have an “old” 30-something person on the floor of the store, no matter how great they look for their age.
Complaints have been lodged against the company for even firing employees based on age factors. While no legal action has gone through the courts, it may be just a matter of time. They’ve already been dinged for religious discrimination. Why not start looking more closely at their other hiring and firing practices. Discriminatory practices are simply unacceptable. Yes, it sucks for the employees, but it also affects the company’s image.
Abercrombie Settled High-Profile Discrimination Case
It’s well-known that Abercrombie & Fitch has a solid “look” policy. They want everyone to look alike, and to follow their style guidelines. It makes sense, right? Well, it may not really make sense when you consider that their requirements discriminate against possible employees.
Samantha Elauf is a Muslim woman who applied for a job with Abercrombie & Fitch, and who appeared to perform very well in the interview. In fact, she was even offered a job, if she would agree to look the part. Elauf refused to work if she couldn’t wear her head scarf (hijab), and A&F claimed that she didn’t meet the “look” requirement for employment — called “classic East Coast collegiate style.”
The Supreme Court ruled that they had violated Elauf’s civil rights, so Abercrombie & Fitch finally settled the case for $25,000. It’s nice to see that they could see the writing on the wall. You’ve gotta wonder, though, what the payout would have been if they hadn’t settled.
Not The First Time?
It must come as quite a shock, but the case of Samantha Elauf was not the first time Abercrombie & Fitch was hit with charges of discrimination. In an earlier case, involving 19-year-old Umme-Hani Khan, she was hired to work part time in the stock room. Initially, she was asked to wear a hijab with matching company colors, but she was then told by a District Manager that she would lose her job if she continued to wear it.
Khan’s case was combined with the case of Halla Banfa, who was not hired by Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a headscarf during her interview. In the settlement, the company agreed to pay $48,000 to Khan and $23,000 to Banafa, but also to better train managers. “My hope is that this case will lead to Abercrombie changing their practices … in regards to religious accommodation,” explained Khan to the San Jose Mercury News.
The case of Samantha Elauf, as well as the other complaints about hiring and firing practices based on discrimination — all seem to suggest that Abercrombie & Fitch really hasn’t learned yet what the courts and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have been trying to tell them for years.
Overpriced Inventory, Really?
Abercrombie & Fitch has got to attract only the cool kids, and charge jacked-up prices on their clothes. And employees have been trying to figure out why exactly. They see customers come into the store and get the “look” on their face when they see the price tags on the clothes.
Let’s face it… The beautiful models just don’t make you want to pay double the price, do they? Or maybe they do. After all, even with the price-tag shock that employees see, they still do sell clothes to avid customers. Does that mean that the “cool” clientele are paying for the Abercrombie label? The model appeal? Or, perhaps they’re just paying for the privilege to hang out with the beautiful models in the store.
Brand Confusion Or Aversion?
If it was really all about buying the brand, though, I’d guess that Abercrombie & Fitch would be creating more clothes with their logo and classic “Abercrombie & Fitch” brand messaging. Teens no longer find it cool to wear a brand across their chests, or maybe it’s just the Abercrombie brand that more customers are avoiding.
If clothes really do make a statement, as Abercrombie is font of promoting, then wearing clothes so prominently emblazoned with Abercrombie messaging may just be associating the wearer with all that is most controversial and offensive about the Abercrombie brand.
Employees are certainly seeing that Abercrombie & Fitch is not the same popular and sought-after place to work that it once was.
Wasteful & Wanton Disregard
One famous (unnamed) Abercrombie & Fitch employee (District Manager) set off a firestorm of controversy when he admitted that the company refuses to donate clothes to the poor and homeless. The statement was: “Abercrombie and Fitch doesn’t want to create the image that just anybody, poor people, can wear their clothing. Only people of a certain stature are able to purchase and wear the company name.”
The controversy was further ignited with news that the company would rather burn its clothes than give them to worthy causes or to those in need. Writer-and-filmmaker Greg Karber responded by creating the hashtag #FitchTheHomeless in an effort to encourage donations of A&F clothing to homeless shelters. Critics have lamenting these efforts, saying that homelessness should not be used to push an anti-capitalism, politicized agenda against Abercrombie.
Over and over, former employees complain that Abercrombie & Fitch is a “bad company,” that their HR practices are horrible, that they treat customers with horrible impunity, and that overall the atmosphere is (or was) atrocious. While it’s possible that some of the policies have evolved over the years, the most basic tenants of encouraging employees not to help customers and forcing employees to say that the customer must have caused the stain (even when they brought it right back, after seeing the tear/stain in natural light outside) — the practices and policies point toward deep, systemic issues that don’t appear to have been address or considered as problematic, despite numerous reports.
Is it any wonder, then, that the company has not been able to recover or fully realize anticipated/projected growth. You are savvy! According to the GfK MRI survey, 68% read online reviews before purchasing a product. Beyond just the reviews, you’re also looking for sustainability and social responsibility. That’s something that former employees suggest that Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t have.
Out of Touch
From many employee reports, Abercrombie is facing a many challenges. While they were once the everyday staple in high school hallways and college dorm rooms, they seem to have a crisis of identity. Who/What is their target market, after all? If the employees don’t know, how is the customer supposed to have any idea?
There’s also been a rich history of viral and semi-viral activity to combat what Abercrombie & Fitch represents, so you’d think that the company would deploy their creative forces to turn the situation around, to lighten the image, even brighten it and infuse it with more of a wholesome, sustainable and healthy look-and-feel. Not so. But, maybe that’ll be in the next iteration of their brand evolution.
Not Far Enough, Fast Enough
Some retail-industry analysts do say that Abercrombie & Finch is starting to move in the right direction, but employees and consumers alike still seem to be stuck on the mistakes of the past. They’re just not seeing the changes they need to see, in order to feel confident in the company’s long-term sustainability prospects. As employees, they fully commiserate with all these secrets and lies. They’ve heard the horror stories, even experienced some of it first-hand, and are still dealing with bad management.
Even if you still are a customer, you see the proliferation of other brands without the horrendous baggage. They’re better, cheaper, safer, and you can feel good about buying those brands!
There comes a time when employees and consumers stand side-by-side and make the decision that a brand is done for… there’s no saving it. With all the controversies and horrors under Abercrombie’s belt so far, if you’re not there yet, you soon will be.