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Abercrombie & Fitch chief's 'cool kids' comments draw outrage

May 10, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan

Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing retailer, has caught flak in recent days for controversial comments made in 2006 by its chief executive.

The image-conscious company does not make or sell women’s clothing in any size above large, which is an issue for some. Its biggest size in women's pants is a 10.

A petition on Change.org to pressure the company into changing that policy had drawn 3,674 supporters.  There’s also an open letter by a blogger at the Huffington Post addressed to Chief Executive Michael S. Jeffries describing the reasons she won’t let her daughters buy Abercrombie & Fitch clothes anymore.

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All of this stems from an interview that Jeffries had with Salon magazine in 2006 that resurfaced and went viral this week.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he’s quoted as saying in the article. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

He goes further, saying that clothiers who try to serve all potential customers are boring.

“Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla,” he said. “You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

This isn’t the first time Jeffries' words have drawn criticism. Last year, Bloomberg news published a story about how the 68-year-old executive was responsible for an “Aircraft Standards” manual that was more than 40 pages and described in detail how he should be served aboard the company’s Gulfstream G550 business jet.

“Clean-shaven males had to wear a uniform of Abercrombie polo shirts, boxer briefs, flip-flops and a ‘spritz’ of the retailer’s cologne,” Bloomberg reported. Also in the story: “Take Me Home,” the popular Phil Collins song of the 1980s, had to be played when passengers boarded return flights.

The information became public when an age-discrimination lawsuit was brought by a former pilot. The case was settled out of court.

In midday trading, Abercrombie's stock was up 36 cents, or less than 1%, to $53.73.

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