If you want to see an example of innovative thinking, check out the viral video recently posted by Greg Karber, launching the #Fitchthehomeless campaign. The video is in response to the deliberate strategy that Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries has bragged about, which is to not make clothing for heavier women—so no plus sizes—and goes so far as to burn excess inventory rather than donate it to avoid the brand being seen on homeless people or those in need.
While clothing manufacturers have the right to produce whatever sizes they choose (for example, I haven't seen Calvin Klein introduce a plus-size line), in the case of Abercrombie, it’s the attitude of its CEO that ignited the backlash.
In a societal environment that’s becoming more inclusive and accepting, to revel in a judgmental swagger that says who’s cool and who’s not—and what physical attributes are attractive or not—is definitely not cool or attractive. And through the power of social media exposing the leadership behind brands, companies are being forced to reckon with the consequences of offensive personality and action, as in the case of Jeffries.
It’s one thing to decide to not produce clothing in larger sizes; it’s another to disparage the people that need them. It’s even more offensive to burn perfectly useful garments rather than donate them to people who can’t afford them for fear of the brand being seen on the less-than-cool.
In Karber’s video, he talks about making Abercrombie the number one brand for the homeless by challenging people to go to thrift stores and other outlets to buy used Abercrombie merchandise and then donate it to the homeless in their communities. While I think it’s a very innovative idea to essentially hijack the brand via social media, given the disrespectful and offensive behavior of Abercrombie’s CEO, making it number one in any category is giving them too much credit.
Marketers talk about transparency and authenticity as desirable characteristics of brands today. In the case of Abercrombie, transparency has exposed exactly what the brand is all about—and it’s very uncool.