retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that Michael Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, is trying to "stem a backlash" against the retailer that was prompted by comments he made about people who should be excluded from wearing his brand.

Jeffries said that he really only wants slim, good looking people to come into his stores and buy his clothes, and that he's really only interested in marketing to cool people - to the point that the company does not even make large sizes.

"We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends," he said. "A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong ... Are we exclusionary? Absolutely." While the interview in which he made the comments originally came out in 2006, they gave gained enormous traction in recent weeks as people have used the internet to express their outrage and disgust with the company.

In a statement released yesterday, Jeffries 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 ... I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense. 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."

Jeffries did not exactly apologize for his comments, and did say that they have been taken out of context.
KC's View:
To me, the words "derogatory characterization" are the ones that stand out in the new statement. Because to be fair, that's exactly what he engaged in back in 2006. If he'd just said that A&F is an aspirational brand that focuses on niche marketing to a specific demographic, there would be a lot less to complain about.

The Times also notes that A&F has image problems with which it has to contend. The story notes that "Jeffries, who has headed up Abercrombie for two decades, is largely responsible for a brand image centered around muscled, nearly naked door-side models and a portfolio of classic clothing with a sexualized twist." And that overt sexualization, especially because it focuses on very young people, can make some folks a little uncomfortable.

By the way, I was curious about whether Jeffries might be vulnerable to being terminated. (I'd fire the guy today, but that's just me.) So I checked Wikipedia - the source of all knowledge - and found the following:

"Jeffries' employment agreement was set to expire December 31, 2008. On December 22, 2008, A&F corporate announced that it had renewed his employment agreement. It is set to expire on February 22, 2014.

"His total compensation in 2011 was estimated at $46,609,075, most of this being in the form of stock options.

"Jeffries owns about 2.8% of the company's shares making him difficult to remove without his consent. His most recent contract calls for a payout of over one hundred million dollars should he lose his job due to an ownership change."

I have to ask one question here, and I warn you that some might feel it is unkind.

But do you think that, making that kind of money, Jeffries might have been able to afford in a better plastic surgeon? Because this is a guy who clearly has had a lot of work done, and it is not very good work.

The real lesson here is for executives of any retailing company, who need to be careful about what they say. Not only can comments offend potential customers today, but the comments will live on the internet in perpetuity.