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Working at Abercrombie and Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch: Behind the Scenes
"You can't have ego," Mike Jefferies says, "Every day, we're afraid." As CEO of mega corporation Abercrombie and Fitch, Jefferies seemingly has nothing to worry about, and he also has one hell of an ego.
At 61 years old, Jefferies still clings to a youthful appearance with enough plastic surgery to warrant suspicion. He boasts that his company is not for the fat or the ugly; he’s built a brand obsessed with only what is sexy. And while this approach has landed him in court more than a few times, not much seems to change. As a former long-time employee of A&F I know best just how the company really operates.
Every week the secret shoppers come and so do the District Mangers, both with a vendetta to pick apart not only the quality of the store management but also the appearance of the employees. Samantha* had been at A&F longer than I, she knew the ins and outs, could fold tops into perfect stacks with her eyes closed. A sweet girl, she has full brown hair and a charming smile; only the ‘judge’ for A&F didn’t happen to think so. Samantha found herself in tears, forced to look at the stores weekly review tagged up in the back, in which she had been marked as unattractive.
With certain managers the flow of new employees will change, for example whenever a pig-headed male runs the store, lots of good looking but rather incapable college girls are added to the team. The interview process is something like a beauty contest, with the best looking being chosen over the best qualified. After spending countless hours in the dimly lit, highly perfumed, and music-pulsing store I see why. One dear friend of mine couldn’t use the cash registers in fear of counting change wrong yet she was offered a promotion over Christmas due to her good looks.
At A&F one must be ‘naturally’ pretty, makeup is discouraged as is wearing the color black or painting your nails. The company encourages staff to wear their clothes by offering 30% discount on all merchandise and making it so every other brand has some sort of ‘look policy’ sanction attached. Employee of four years, Jim*, was sporting True Religion Jeans at work one day when a manager approached him, rolled her eyes, crossed her arms, and smugly said, “Are you really wearing those in my store? Never again.” She nodded her head and stormed away. Working at A&F the urge to buy is persistent, and at minimum wage the sum of your paycheck hardly covers the cost of your work wardrobe.There are two job positions at A&F; one is working with costumers on the floor and the other is hidden in back, folding, organizing, and auditing clothes. During one of A&F’s many lawsuits they were accused of racial and gender discrimination that resulted in the creation of diversity requirements and training. Many argue that in order to get around this A&F stuffs those they are ‘forced’ to hire in the back room where costumers will not see the opposite of the A&F image.
Without a doubt the store does this. Although many gorgeous individuals want to work in back as opposed to on the floor, larger or less attractive candidates are not given the option, they are actually told upon hire that they will work in the back. Danny* is on the shorter side and far from an A&F poster boy, yet back in 2009 he wanted the chance to work out on the floor. He asked countless times, argued his cause, but was told over and over that the store didn’t have enough hours for ‘models’ and so switching positions wouldn’t make sense. Unfortunately, Danny was hurt because he was far from dumb; he saw the handful of new model hires, all getting the hours sworn to not exist. Having been with the company for nearly two years he was more than qualified for the position, his looks were the only thing in his way. Although Danny didn’t, others have legally fought back. Rainbow/Push, led by Jesse Jackson, drug A&F into court resulting in a $40 million dollar settlement. Many examples pleaded Rainbow’s case for discriminatory actions such as a shirt briefly produced by the brand, which read: “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make it White.” MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers) has also publicly bashed the clothing company, calling their catalogs out as a campaign for teen drinking and risky behavior. Yet, although Jefferies once ripped the controversial catalogue off of shelves, the new print was redistributed like a fresh slap to the face, bearing all of the same morals and messages only in a slightly less direct manner. Culture annalists say that the relaxed stance in which Abercrombie portrays sex is a reflection of our societies current day morals as well as a push to further normalize what was once sacred and private.
The store is run like a catty clique, unless instantly addressed as a favorite by managers, one has a high chance of being given the worst tasks, the least hours, and the smallest leniency. Although popular part timers are never as permanent as they think, soon as new managers come in oldies are filtered out for newbies. The store likes to keep a constant flow of new employees coming in and out. Perhaps because new workers must buy new clothes and therefore hike up A&F’s recently low sales. The company claims something different, they site the diversity of every-changing faces as a good thing for whatever reason. A&F is a store high in drama yet getting lower and lower in popularity. Although known for their great full-time benefits, they hardly care for their employee’s day-to-day quality of life. One manager was forced to give up coffee because she simply couldn’t afford it anymore, despite the fact she worked six days a week and often over-time. And for us part timers? We were folding clothes, loading dressing rooms, and conducting audits for nickels and dimes. All the while Jefferies was flying high in his private jet, and when he did come to San Diego’s main store panic ensued as managers spent hours deciding which store employees were best looking, and would therefore be ‘borrowed’ into the main store for the day of his visit. Once again proving the importance of looks over capability in the world of Abercrombie. The store doesn’t so much care if you are rude or unable to help costumers, in fact you are more likely to be fired or sent home for a look violation.
In the back room, above the computer and phone is a shelf that holds a row of white binders; one of which holds Polaroids of all current store employees. These snap shots are flipped through by mangers as new hirers and fires are being debated. Just like A&F merchandise, haphazardly sewn together in sweatshops, the employees are judged on appearance instead of quality.
More on A&F
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