Gotta love Mike Jeffries, the surgically altered (in a big way) CEO of teenage clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. He has grabbed the headlines yet again for his “mean girl” management philosophy. He doesn’t like uncool people and he dislikes ugly people. As for people who are fat? They have no place in the world of Abercrombie.
The Internet went wild last week as the media reported on a new book called The New Rules of Retail co-written by Robin Lewis. Lewis told the media that Mike Jeffries, “…doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people.” The basis of the comments come from an interview Jeffries did with Salon.com in 2006. Jeffries explained his mean girl philosophy then as follows: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids.” He went on to say, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Refusing to make any concessions, the retailer stops at a size ten for women. As the outrage over his recently unearthed comments continued, Jeffries and A&F were unavailable for comment. Jeffries is simply going to sit this controversy out.
The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie & Fitch. Could this become one of the most disliked brands in America?
The PR Takeaway: Be careful of whom you offend. Given that the comments date back some seven years there was an opportunity for Jeffries to revise his views, but he is not giving in. Fine to stick to his guns but with nearly 40 percent of American women considered overweight, and many controlling the purse strings of their teenagers, A&F may come to regret its no comment policy. One of the lessons from high school is that the world is a fickle place. It doesn’t take much to switch from being the popular kid at school to suddenly being the unpopular one.