business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I don't know about you, but one of my least favorite retail stores out there is Abercrombie & Fitch. There's just something off-putting about the store - all those perfect-looking young people who work there, and all those wall-sized pictures of people with sculpted abdominal muscles.

Well, it turns out that they don't really want me in there, and they certainly don't want me wearing their clothes.

Business Insider has been running a story that's been getting a good deal of exposure on the internet, with A&F CEO Mike Jeffries quoted as saying that "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."

Sex appeal, Jeffries said, is "almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that." And, in fact, they don;t even make large sizes, because they don't want large, unattractive people wearing their labels on their large, unattractive bodies.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned from this story.

One is that even if you think something and believe something, sometimes it does not make sense to actually say it out loud. Especially not to a reporter. And if you are asked a question that forces you to address such issues, it is critical to have crafted a less obnoxious way to say it that won't offend people.

To be fair, A&F is only doing something that a lot of retailers do: niche marketing. (After all, is A&F being any more exclusionary than, say, Casual Male XL?) But there are ways to say something, and there are ways not to say something. (Besides, sometimes not-so-attractive people actually buy stuff for attractive people, and A&F has just become a less appealing option. I'll just wander over to J. Crew.)

But here's the other lesson:

Mike Jeffries' comments were made in an interview conducted in 2006.

That's right. Seven years ago. But they've surfaced to the top, because that's what can happen on the internet.

When I was a young newspaper reporter back in 1978, a local politician was annoyed by something I'd written. But, he said, he wasn't going to worry about it because today's newspaper would be used to wrap tomorrow's dead fish. (Of course, he called me into his office to yell at me about how much he didn't care about it.)

But things have changed. Today's news now can be tomorrow's news. Or next year's news. Because nothing goes away. Ever.
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