Thursday, March 31, 2011

By Request, Part 1: We Really Need to Boycott Abercrombie and Fitch

Lordy day Amelia. Abercrombie & Fitch apparently thinks it hasn't done enough to cement itself in my mind as ridiculous. It is now selling push-up bikinis to children. Our friend Sarah has made another request that we discuss this issue. I know Kyrie is about to write something about how this is fucked up from the angle of sexualizing girls and conflating women and children, so I want to say something about how we really, seriously need to boycott Abercrombie. It isn't funny anymore. Not that it ever was.

Here's why I think Abercrombie & Fitch should be boycotted, broken down into a handy-dandy list:

1. Abercrombie & Fitch is doing work here to push gender norms onto people. And who, exactly, is supposed to be appreciating the sight of seven year old girls in padded bikini tops? This isn't doing a thing for body-acceptance/self-love, I can tell you that. Wear whatever you want, ye autonomous adults, but I do have a problem with teaching first graders that their body should look a certain way ASAP, and here, we have something you can buy to look more socially acceptable. This is revolting. Kids that age, regardless of gender, are really impressionable. I was kind of screwed up when I was that age* thanks in part to these messages, and I think the culture of body-shaming is only getting worse. This is part of it, and it's truly harmful, both from the gender/heteronormativity perspective, and from the body acceptance perspective.

2. Abercrombie & Fitch is racist. Or, at least, it's fine with selling racist t-shirts. Is there a difference? Good for the people who freaked out on their asses and got this revolting t-shirt pulled from the shelves.

3. A&F also sells sexist t-shirts, according to Wikipedia, including one that said "L is for Loser" next to a picture of a male gymnast, and t-shirts that said "Who needs brains when you need these?," "Available for Parties," "I had a nightmare I was a brunette," "Female streaking encouraged," "Show the twins," and "Female students wanted for sexual research." The message that women exist for men's sexual pleasure comes through loud and clear. It's awfully hetero/cis-normative, too.

4. Abercrombie & Fitch is guilty of workplace discrimination based on race and gender. I'm not sure how "gender" is being defined here - well, it isn't, but I'm guessing they mean discrimination against cis women? This idea of gender discrimination being something that is presumed to mean discrimination against cis women is something that needs to be raised in a future blog post. Anyway. These aren't hiring practices we want to support with our dollars, right?

5. A&F also discriminates by ability. They made a woman with a prosthetic arm work in the store room because she didn't suit their "look policy"? Are you fucking KIDDING me? So even if they are forced to widen their hiring pool, that doesn't meant they're going to treat people better. The look policy says that staff need to have a "natural, classic American style." What the hell does that mean? What is "natural"? Do they mean women shouldn't shave? Because I kind of doubt it. What about "classic"? Petticoats are classic, is that what they want? Or do they mean monocles and top-hats? And, finally, "American" - I don't even know where to begin with that one, but I fear it means "white." Their web site as of today only features skinny white models, some of whom aren't wearing much clothing anyway. Nothing against skinny people, white people, models, or people who aren't wearing much clothing. It's just not exactly representing an array of "natural, classic American style." I guess that is something A&F defines narrowly. Fortunately, this woman won her wrongful dismissal case.

6. You know who else doesn't fit their "look policy"? Muslims! That's right: A&F has now, through its corporate policy, treated people unfairly on the basis of race, gender, ability, and religion. A Muslim teenager was fired for wearing her headscarf to work.

That article also contains this gem:

The youth-oriented retailer describes its brand as "rooted in east coast traditions and Ivy League heritage," and as "the essence of privilege."

I'm sorry, folks. I just cannot possibly condone this. "East coast traditions" very clearly means "rich white people" traditions. In using these kinds of words, they are not only aligning themselves with the most privileged possible customer base, they are less-than-implicitly excluding people who can't fit into it demographically - including the Muslim woman they fired. This east coast-dwelling white person will have nothing to do with this kind of narrow-mindedness.

7. As if all of that weren't enough, A&F is size-ist. Their sizes only run up to a large, and reports on the web say that the sizes run small. Judging by their size chart, I'd wear a medium, which means there is only one size up from what I'd wear. This sends yet another message about who they think should be buying their clothes, and it is a message I cannot possibly endorse.

8. A&F uses unfair labor practices. In fact, the International Labor Rights Forum inducted it into the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame.

A quote from their web site:

Most of the companies listed employ laborers who toil for long hours under dangerous working conditions for poverty wages. When these workers attempt to form a union to voice their collective concerns, they face threats from management and risk being fired or even beaten. Many of this years’ inductees use suppliers that practice illegal tactics to suppress workers’ rights to organize. Some of the companies mentioned weave shame into their clothing by continuing to use cotton sourced from Uzbekistan where harvesting is accomplished through forced child labor.
This is what the PDF says about A&F specifically, for those who don't want to download:
Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) clothing is manufactured at Alta Mode factory in the Philippines. Employees of the factory sought to form a union to address concerns and on the day the Alta Mode Worker’s Union was to be certified, all of the more than 100 union members and officers were placed on forced leave, a clear case of employer interference in the exercise of the right to unionize and an unfair labor practice by law. Workers have struggled for a union as an antidote to a production quota set beyond human capacity.

It is essential for A&F to send a strong signal to the factory that freedom of association violations will not be tolerated. The A&F supplier has even filed criminal cases against the union members. This factory case is a clear example of the flagrant disregard for the law by garment factory owners in the Philippines.

Unfortunately A&F doesn’t even have a public code of conduct and utilizes factory inspectors that have missed glaring issues such as the ones highlighted in the Alta Mode factory. One major concern is that A&F shifts its production around from factory to factory which results in lack of stable orders at the factory. ILRF encourages A&F to build long term meaningful relationships with suppliers so that their standards around wages, overtime and freedom of association are clearly enforced.

Every single instance I listed above is unacceptable and reason alone to boycott A&F. You can rip holes in your own jeans, you know.

* It only got worse over time, too. Thanks, body-shaming culture! It took me til my mid-20s to be cool with myself. That's a lot of wasted time, folks.


  1. "[R]ooted in east coast traditions and Ivy League heritage" is not just rich and white. It means rich, able-bodied, hetero (male) WASPs.

    Gladwell has an interesting essay on the SAT and the Ivies:

    For a more complete look at the fortress-like nature of the Ivies in protecting privilege, see Karabel's "The Chosen" ( There's a nice summary from the Economist:

    'When Mr Karabel picks up the story shortly after 1900, the colleges were becoming increasingly concerned about the number of Jews who were passing the entrance exams. Since the Protestant upper classes who paid tuition bills had deserted other universities, notably Columbia, where “Hebrew” enrollments were deemed excessive, administrators regarded the increased Jewish presence as both a cultural insult and a threat to their institutional viability.

    'As a result, the colleges limited the size of their classes and began to reject students by creating a definition of merit that was expressly designed to justify quotas on Jewish applicants. Academic achievement would play second fiddle to the character and manliness thought to be inculcated by prestigious boarding schools. Jews (limited to 15% of the class at Harvard and 10% at Yale) were deemed lacking in these attributes. In the words of a former Harvard dean of admissions, Wilbur Bender, Jews were “effeminates, the precious and affected, the unstable”, while private school boys were “virile, masculine, red-blooded he-men”.'

    It's a real microcosm for how the kyriarchy morphs to protect those in power.

  2. Absolutely right on. I've read "The Chosen" - devoured it, really, earlier this year. It's one of the best-written books I've come across from academia in awhile, and it's genius. Thank you for your recommendations and your comments!