By Jason Wright
Open letter to Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries
Dear Mr. Jeffries,
If you believe the adage "all press is good press," then the last 10 days have been great to you. You and your brand have been mentioned in unflattering terms on virtually every television news network, in many newspapers, websites and from one end of the blogosphere to the other.
You've taken quite a beating. If this were a heavyweight fight, your trainer would have already thrown in the towel and ordered your new teeth.
Why so many punches? A book by author Robin Lewis, "The New Rules of Retail," has breathed new life into an interview you gave to Salon in 2006. Hidden among your quotes we find this golden nugget: "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. 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."
Yes, I'd say that definitely qualifies as candid.
Let's be clear: I'm a capitalist and a free-market guy. I support your right to run your business however you'd like and to exercise your freedom of speech, whether I agree with it or not.
I also enjoy that same freedom. Mind if I share?
You have the right to keep the lights low at Abercrombie & Fitch. I have the right to say your stores are so dark, shoppers should get a Maglite with every purchase. You have the right to pipe fragrances into the air conditioning and heating systems. I have the right to tell you the scents are so strong, shoppers smell like they've been waterboarded with perfume.
How about the unrelenting, heavy-beat tunes? You're welcome to crank up the volume, by all means. But I'm free to tell you it's loud enough you should probably be sister companies with Beltone.
You're free to hire tan cool-kid models that also double as sales associates. I'm free to point out they're all so thin they don't need your clothes, they need a Pop-Tart. Most of them look like their legs could fit into the paper sleeve of a Pixy Stix.
Yes, you have the freedom in this country to run your business this way. You can reject plus-size clothing and the customers who buy them. What you cannot do, Mr. Jeffries, is tell us what's beautiful. Corporate America doesn't define beauty, the soul does.
I am the father of two teenage daughters and I think they're stunningly beautiful, no matter what size they wear. They're far from perfect, but they're lovely because of who they are and what they stand for, not for how they look. I hope most parents would say the same about their own kids.
Beauty isn't about waist size or what label we wear. Beauty is how we see people, serve people and love people. Beauty is demonstrated in the way we treat others, especially when we disagree with them or when they look different from us.
Mr. Jeffries, I'm sure you're a good man and you've achieved a great deal of success. I applaud you for that. But please don't tell America's young adults that beauty is in the brand.
Fads fade, but beauty is eternal.
Jason Wright, father of teenage girls
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.