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Clothed in Dignity ~ Is It Right To Fight Abercrombie By Using The Homeless?

By now, you’ve heard what Abercrombie and Fitch’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, thinks about plus-sized women wearing their clothes. To put it kindly, he believes A&F clothes should only be seen on the thinnest of the thin, the most beautiful of the beautiful, the coolest of the cool. Not me. Statistically, not you. These comments were made in 2006, a first-grader ago, but have recently resurfaced. His opinion has created a new firestorm of righteous indignation.

Earlier today, I watched a video produced by a young man with a big idea. If you haven’t seen it, watch:

(if you can’t see the embedded video, click refresh or click here to watch it at YouTube)

First, I want to say Greg Karber, the guy behind the idea and the entertaining and well put-together video, has his heart squarely in the right place. I agree Abercrombie & Fitch are a terrible company for many reasons, and not just because of this latest controversy. I’m not absolving them or letting them off the hook at all as I’m about to gently question Mr. Karber’s campaign.

In case you couldn’t or didn’t watch the video, his idea is for everyone incensed by A&F to shop at thrift stores or clean your closet of all A&F clothing, then give it to homeless people. On the surface, this seems like a small but grand gesture: Change A&F’s customer profile from cool kids to the poorest of the poor AND help someone in the process. Seems like a win-win.

As I watched the video with a smile on my face, laughing out loud at several points, I began to get a little uncomfortable. The homeless people living in Los Angeles’ “Skid Row” seemed confused by having clothing randomly left with them or handed off like footballs as they were secretly filmed.

I began to formulate an imaginary dialogue.

Rightfully Justified Abercrombie Hater: Here are some used pants made by a company I despise. They only like thin, young, beautiful, rich people and to drag down their brand, I am giving them to you because you are exactly the opposite of these qualities.

Homeless Person: Um. Thanks?

I’m not sure if they agreed to be on camera. Were they made aware they are a part of a campaign to shame A&F? Do they know they were chosen because their abject poverty and hopeless situations make them everything Anti-Abercrombie? (I would totally welcome any answers if you know)

In an attempt to “change their brand” we are encouraged to use the most downtrodden of our society to make a point. It’s estimated that 2/3s of homeless people have mental health and/or substance abuse problems. It goes beyond being poor and being out of CEO Jeffries’ dream demographic. We have the luxury to boycott and condemn A&F in any way we want. We can congratulate ourselves for sending a message to A&F and helping others at the same time.

But when the others are pawns, and statistically unable to understand—or even care—that the sweater foisted on them is to make a First World Problem point, it troubles me. A shirt is a shirt is a shirt. Give until it hurts, I encourage you. Is a vile brand damaged because an adrift, possibly drug-dependent homeless woman is now wearing the brand’s douche-bag shirt? It makes the woman a prop. It confirms homeless people are so low in society’s totem pole that the mere act of wearing a used shirt could bring a company to its knees. It’s hoped.

People are not picket signs or t-shirt slogans or hashtags. The homeless in this anti-A&F campaign were chosen as the recipients because of their status and their status only. Isn’t that the same thing CEO Jeffries is doing? He prefers certain customers because of their status and their status only.

The best way to fight people like Jeffries is to blur the lines between status. Change definitions of what’s beautiful. Don’t shop at Abercrombie & Fitch. Give away your A&F clothing, for sure, if that’s what you’re led to do. Maybe a better way is to sell it and donate funds to an organization that promotes healthy body image in women and girls—or the homeless? Maybe repurpose A&F clothing into diapers or kitty litter pan liners and brag about how well the cotton jersey from a former polo shirt catches your son’s poo. Good job, A&F!

Again, I truly believe Greg Karber has his heart and attention in the right place. Clearly, he’s a talented guy who is using his skills for good and not evil. I applaud him for doing something and inspiring others. My main wish is for everyone to be mindful when we target one group of humans (who totally deserve harsh criticism) by enlisting another group of adult humans without their full consent, without inadvertent insult. Dignity for all, right?

5 comments to Clothed in Dignity ~ Is It Right To Fight Abercrombie By Using The Homeless?

  • Steph

    I completely agree with you. I’m sure the filmmaker feels like he is being altruistic, but if it was “let’s give all A&F clothes to the overweight, unpopular kids,” the mockery would be much clearer. I think people generally do not recognize their own condescension towards the homeless, which is more obviously seen in the “I’ll donate this article of clothing which is too stained/worn/ugly for me to wear, but some homeless person will appreciate.”

    It’s a sore spot for me though because I have a relative who is homeless because of addiction.

  • Gretchen

    I agree also. I thought it while watching. It wasn’t so much doing harm to A&F, as it was insulting to the homeless. I like the idea of using the clothes to clean toilets and line diapers better. And of course, none of it will do any good if there is not also a huge boycott of Mr. Jeffries’ stores. There is also the option of “redesigning” his clothes to fit larger people, but that still implies that there is something to be gained by associating yourself with his stores. Personally, I didn’t even know they didn’t carry larger sizes, because I already knew I couldn’t afford the prices. If I’m going to spend that kind of money, it’s not going to be on t-shirts. Also, at least give away the clothes you own, don’t go out and spend MORE money on this man’s clothing!

  • Kristy

    you think faster and better than me! and i agree with your thoughts.

  • Ellen

    I am SO glad you are back. I can’t tell you how my anxiety rose with each month that went by while you were away. Not that I have any idea how you find time or energy to write. But I’m so glad you do!

  • Rae

    Exploiting the homeless is never okay. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like Greg Karber put much or any thought into this idea at all and, while I hate to the be cynical one, he was probably only really hoping to get his 15 minutes of fame.

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