Abercrombie And Fitch And Homelessness and You

Abercrombie And Fitch
Recently, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch said in an interview that he only wanted “thin and beautiful” people to wear his clothes, which is why the largest woman’s size their stores carry is a 10.

The outcry has been predictable, and loud, and well deserved.

One of the more popular responses is a video titled “Abercrombie & Fitch gets a Brand Readjustment”(above). The video consists of a man handing out Abercrombie and Fitch clothing to persons who are homeless, as a ‘snub’ to the clothing brand. Because, after all, what could be worse than seeing clothes made for the beautiful people on poor people?

The only reason this “works” as humor is because we see people who are experiencing homelessness as “the other”, as someone who is different than us, and not only different, but offensive. It should, we are saying, offend Abercrombie and Fitch that “these” people are wearing our clothes.

If you doubt this, consider how you would feel about this story if, instead of “homeless people”, the story was that a man shot a video that sought to offend the brand by giving its clothes to black people or gay people. The internet would be in an outrage, rightfully calling the video racist or homophobic.

But give the clothes to homeless people and the Huffington Post calls it a “funny and creative way to readjust the Abercrombie & Fitch brand.”

Sigh.

This is wrong. It is, to use a word I do not use lightly, evil. It is stigmatizing an already stigmatized group in order to “strike back” at a brand that let you down. One of our idols failed us, and so we critique them by shooting video of vulnerable people wearing their clothes in order to lampoon the brand.

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I mentioned on Social Media that I have a problem with the video, and several folks implied I was being overly sensitive. After all, the narrative, the story, is that A & F is bad, and they must be punished. And after all, homeless folks need clothes, right? The guy meant well, after all.

No. This is really a story about us. About our wanting to believe that we are just and good and, dare I say it, holy. And that any cause we champion is just and good and holy as well, and after all, we are helping out some homeless folks who need clothes…

It is never okay to stigmatize people in the defense of your cause – no matter how just or good it is. It is never okay to use poor people – or, in fact, any people, as props or object lessons or teaching tools. Ever.

People who are experiencing homelessness are people. They are not extras in a movie about you.


Hugh Hollowell is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA based in Raleigh, N.C. He is the founder and director of Love Wins Ministries, which tackles the problems of homelessness by focusing on relationships, not outcomes.

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About the Author

Hugh Hollowell

Hugh HollowellHugh Hollowell is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA based in Raleigh, N.C. He is the founder and director of Love Wins Ministries, which tackles the problems of homelessness by focusing on relationships, not outcomes.View all posts by Hugh Hollowell →

  • adoption_mama

    A good perspective. Thank you!

  • Digger

    Personally, I would place a large chasm between this social activism and “evil”. However, there may yet be a flaw in the man’s plan to punish Abercrombie and Fitch by purchasing their clothing to give to homeless people.
    While I see the point the author is trying to make, I wonder what the homeless person’s opinion would be. Would they reject new, clean clothing because it makes us view them as different? I doubt that they would. I suspect that they are fully aware that they are, in fact different, and that they would stand out LESS if they had the new clothes. I’ll bet that the homeless don’t give two whits about public’s opinion of Abercrombie and Fitch, and if the man were to toss in a cup of coffee, a sandwich, and a friend to eat it with, then that man would be treating the homeless man a lot like Jesus would treat him.
    If it is never ok to use poor people as teaching tools, I know of several RedLetters that need to be ripped from the Bible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Calhoun/100000634546948 John Calhoun

    I agree that using the homeless or any group of people for humor is offensive. However, when I watch the video, I don’t get a sense that the creators intended it to be funny. I really do think they were well meaning in their intentions. The fact the Huffington Post etc. has chosen to make it into something funny is beyond control of the creators.

  • Tom

    Hi,

    I agree with the overall point of your article and see where you’re coming from. However I would disagree with one part:

    “If you doubt this, consider how you would feel about this story if, instead of “homeless people”, the story was that a man shot a video that sought to offend the brand by giving its clothes to black people or gay people. The internet would be in an outrage, rightfully calling the video racist or homophobic.”

    That would depend on how it was done. If a fashion designer said he didn’t want gay men wearing his clothes then I think it would be a pretty effective protest if a large number of gay men wore his clothes anyway, especailly to something like a Pride event. The real issue seems to be choice. Are you choosing to take part in a protest against somebody or are you being used by someone for their own protest.

  • Revsimmy

    FIrstly, in spite of the fact that many (including, it seems, the Huffington Post) seem to have found this funny, that does not seem to have been the video’s purpose and intention. As far as I can see, the real stigmatizing here is being done the A&F CEO, who clearly only wants “the right sort of people” to wear his company’s products. What the video does (quite successfully in my opinion) is to subvert that style of branding, and that would have been the case (as Tom points out) had the issue been a more overtly racist or homophobic outlook by said CEO. I do agree that there is an ethical issue in co-opting people who are either unaware, or who are not really in a position to object, to this type of campaign.

    But here’s a question. What WOULD have been a good way to draw attention to this outrageous attitude by A&F’s CEO?

    • Kim

      Boycotting the store

      • SimmyN

        Not very effective if (a) you don’t actually shop there anyway, and/or (b) you fall outside the CEO’s arbitrary range of “cool”, “desirable” customers.

  • Disgusted Reader

    That is quite the high pillar of good you’ve put yourself on.

    You claim giving A&F clothes to homeless people stigmatizes an already stigmatized people. While everybody can agree that homeless people are stigmatized, if you believe giving clothes to needy people stigmatizes them, let me refresh you on the definition of stigmatization: To characterize or brand as disgraceful or ignominious or escribe or regard as worthy of disgrace or great disapproval.

    Unless the do-gooders handing out clothes are purposefully targeting women above a size 10 or L, and handing them jeans, I highly doubt there actions stigmatize this group.

    Also, to drive home your point, you said for the brand there’s “nothing worse than clothes made for beautiful people on poor people”. I never realized beautiful precluded poor, or that poor meant homeless.

    It seems though you’ve built your tower high and mighty, the base is rotten.

  • Rose

    I don’t see him as ‘using’ homeless people as a prop for a joke at all; he is doing a good job of saying that he is going to tear down this guys snobbish exclusion and bigotry, and who better to participate than those who can LEAST AFFORD these clothes. Jesus is another person who recognized a group of people as ‘the least of these’; at your conclusion you would be calling Jesus a bigot by focusing on their ‘position’ in society.

  • http://twitter.com/lizzyepp Elizabeth Sawatzky

    I appreciate this post. My immediate reaction to the video was “exploitation”. Do the homeless people even want his clothing? Just because they’re in need, doesn’t mean we can choose what their need is.

    Buying used A&F clothing and giving it out to a marginalized group isn’t going to get the attention of Jeffries. Why? Because he’ll never see these people wearing his clothes. He, and the rest of his ‘elite’, can avoid the reality of homelessness. Want to hit him where it hurts? Don’t buy the clothing. Profit is a language he and the A&F team understands.

    Futhermore, I’m sure there is a more proactive, dare i say ‘restorative’ way to bring about change in Jeffries attitude. How about encourage him to attend a support group meeting for women and men suffering from eating disorders. Let him hear first hand how his ad campaigns effects their well-being. If we want to see change in Jeffries, it’s going to come from him understanding, not pissing him off.

    • http://www.facebook.com/tonylomax Anthony Lomax

      I actually disagree. I think Jeffries is much more likely to respond to a viral video campaign. After all, this is a man consumed by a need for money and the success of his brand. He belongs to a special “elite” group of people who doesn’t care about anyone else. Read any of his quotes and then tell me that he would be personally affected by someone saying “You hurt others.” He doesn’t care about anything or anyone but his pocketbook. Getting a million views on a facebook video making fun of his brand has the potential to hurt his stock prices, and that is the only way to get a man like Jeffries’ attention.

  • http://snommelp.tumblr.com/ Snommelp

    (a) It seems that donating the clothes to the homeless was in response not to A&F’s policy against having “ugly” people wear their clothes, but rather in response to their policy to burn clothes rather than donating to charities. I feel that this is an important distinction.

    (b) Having watched the video, I now understand that he is advocating buying A&F clothes second-hand, or donating A&F clothes already in your possession. Such a move does not send any more money to A&F, and so that removes that complaint.

    (c) All that being said, motivation is a very important thing – God looks at the heart. Some here have noted that Jesus also used the poor as examples. In so doing, Jesus always affirmed them as children of God and used the example to point to the Father. I cannot say for certain (nor do I plan to try) whether that’s the intention behind #FitchTheHomeless, but I’d say that any of us who might be tempted to join in, or do something similar, should consider our motivations – those who do good deeds in order to be praised receive their reward on earth, not elsewhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.catron.1610 Chris Catron

    So now there are more people walking around as billboards for A&F?

  • http://www.facebook.com/tonylomax Anthony Lomax

    I think it’s reaching pretty far to claim that this video is “othering” the homeless. The video points out that plastic surgery maniac and A+F CEO Jeffries has anti-homeless policies. Instead of donating unsold clothing, he would rather burn them. If anyone is “othering” the homeless, It’s A+F. I think the only problem with this video is some bad editing choices regarding the filmmaker’s interactions with homeless people. I don’t think the filmmaker is trying to tarnish A+F’s name by having homeless people wear them. I think he is trying to ironically rebrand A+F as a compassionate company and pointing out their flawed policies against the homeless in the process.

  • Just me

    I think if you want to buy A&F clothes and give them to homeless people, good for you. They need clothes, heck half of those clothes look like they have been designed by homeless people… I think the error was made in making it a public backlash. Now, the poor people are the object of “ugliness” as they are chosen by this “do gooder” as the opposite of the “thin and beautiful” people mentioned by A&F CEO. If you are going to do good, just do good. If we shine the light on acts of kindness so we look better, doesn’t it, in fact, cheapen the gift? RANDOM acts of kindness, people.

  • Steve Bortner

    I don’t think the video was meant to be funny at all, and it isn’t. It is, however, an illustrative indictment of the A & F CEO’s arrogance. I think you’re missing the point. GIving the A & F clothing to homeless people flies in the face of the CEO’s wishes and says that the homeless–or any of us, no matter our station in life or attractiveness–are equal to us and equally worthy of wearing A & F or any other clothing. I thought it was brilliant and did not consider it to demeaning to homeless people at all.

  • Jaymee

    Yikes, for a moment I thought this video had been posted because RLC supported it!! I was relieved to read on and find out that was not the case.

  • http://www.josiahsprague.com/ Josiah Sprague

    If this had happened 60 years ago and A&F had said that black people shouldn’t wear their clothes, the protest of giving their clothes away to black people would be equally valid. A&F was saying that “uncool” people shouldn’t wear their clothes, but this protest is saying that people’s status is not defined by their clothes. It is saying that the types of people that society looks down on have just as much dignity as the rest of us.

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