The past two weeks have brought up interesting conversations with my daughters about social justice issues, issues of sexism and discrimination and articulating exactly why these issues need to be addressed, not ignored or fluffed off. Talking about it is, in my opinion, the only way to highlight the problems, and work to make changes. From dress code policies that are fundamentally sexist in nature, to the outrageous comments (no matter when they were said or what context they were in – still outrageous) to the heartbreaking tragedies that occurred in garment factories in Bangladesh… the discussions have been lively.
I rarely weigh in to comment on popular news stories, especially when they are ‘hot topics’ because I like to listen. How people react says a great deal about what they value, what matters to them ethically, especially when it comes to a basic need like clothing.
I cannot help but consider the message we are reinforcing with our children, our youth, our peers, regardless of gender, when we support a company like Ambercrombie and Fitch. Their marketing strategy is not unlike other major clothing companies. They have stayed stubbornly focused on making clothing for the young and beautiful because they sell more clothes that way. They have been around since 1892, and have obviously had some success in terms of marketing (especially during the 90’s when their clothing brand was trending strongly). The garment and fashion industry has operated along these same lines in the past – what was practiced in 2006 (and when Jefferies was first quoted about the practice of narrowly targeted demographic marketing) is practiced now, and was practiced for decades before that, nothing has really changed in how big companies sell clothing manufactured by the lowest bidder and then is upsold with branding to consumers with money burning in their pockets.
The past two weeks have been a good example of how the consumer playing field has changed. It is a good example of how powerful social media can be. It is a good example of how the sheep mentality that was counted on by marketing executives in the past is no longer a good standard to follow. To be out of step with the new marketing world is just dangerous. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if you marginalize a huge group of women and piss them off there will be consequences. People will take it personally because it is a personal issue as much as it is a business one.
The issue for me is not that I will never be one of the ‘cool kids” or that I can’t walk into a A&F store and buy something off the rack. I am not focused on having the latest fashion or the perfect pair of shoes. I didn’t care about what I wore as a teen either. I have never been particularly interested in what I wore, and have always been distracted and average. That being said, my youth was not unlike many others – I got my share of criticism and comments back then for how I looked. I wasn’t skinny enough, tall enough, pretty enough. Sure, I have self-esteem issues as a result. I have been discriminated against as an adult as well for the same reasons throwing in the ‘not young enough’ element to boot. Personal experience aside, I find business and marketing strategies such as A&F’s a challenge, especially in the current economic and social climate. I am confounded by the complete disconnect between corporate life and reality. I am disgusted by the lack of compassion and understanding for those struggling and in need of basic necessities, particularly in North America.
As a wallet carrying member of the largest consumer demographic in North America, I find it is very difficult to reach into my pocket to pay for any piece of clothing to a company like Abercrombie & Fitch, who blatantly and unapologetically abandons social responsibility, chooses to openly discriminate against not just one group of people (women who do not fit below size 10, myself included) but another group of people based on income-levels. That a company would sooner destroy their seconds than donate them is a ridiculous waste.Maybe I am a rare breed of consumer who actually gives a damn where and her clothing is made and how the company rates in ethical business practices – but given the backlash over the past two weeks, not to mention other tragedies, such as the working conditions in Bangladesh – I would say no, I am not unique.
I don’t need to shop there of course. There are plenty of other options. I could shop at a plus size store as someone so blithely pointed out, but it isn’t the fact that there are other options available to me that keeps me from being outraged by the comments made by Jefferies in 2006 or in 2013. I am outraged in a larger and more fundamental way.
It is because I live in a world where children and youth are beaten up daily for the clothes that they wear and what they look like. Because these same children give up on life completely and kill themselves, not being able to find any other option.
It is because I live in a world where people living in the most affluent countries riot for sport shoes and are willing kill each other for them and in the countries where the same shoes are made, children wear recycled water bottles tied to their feet with twine.
It is because we have spent decades addressing social justice issues, empowering women to be more accepting of who they are, and stand up against discrimination that is harmful and degrading to anyone.
It is because I live in a world where sexuality and sexual appeal is still constantly being manipulated and warped to the point that the responsibility is still placed on women to dress according to outdated and sexist ideals “for their own protection” because boys, men, husbands, fathers, boyfriends, brothers, friends can’t control themselves and certainly won’t love women for who they are.
I am outraged because my daughters are outraged. They don’t want to live in a world where their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, their friends, anyone they know or don’t know are discriminated against and devalued as human beings because of how they look or how much money they might have.
That was enough for me. I had to say something.
You don’t have to agree. You can go on wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. No one in my house will be.