Good Riddance to Michael Jeffries, Departing CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch
An increasingly diverse youth culture has no time for the Aryan Americana of turn-of-the-century fashion.
In a move that immediately resulted in a 6-percent uptick in the company’s stock, Abercrombie and Fitch CEO and crazy old mummified sweat sock Michael Jeffries finally stepped down as head of the normcore retail giant. Jeffries, who famously turned the ailing sportswear brand into a mecca for high school bully-types and mean girls in the late 1990s and early oughts, has continually struggled with elements of his own image—his bizarre fetishization of youth and singularly shallow worldview, his disdain for the overweight and insane demands of conformity—as well as the company’s offensive policies regarding race and gender under his reign.
In a now-classic Salon profile from 2006, Jeffries says “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.” Jeffries took this philosophy, as well as an attendant monomaniacally narrow view of “good looking” to extremes, only manufacturing the brand’s clothes in small sizes and taking legal steps to insure his ability to discriminate against disabled and non-white people when hiring. Over the years, the company has been accused of creating racist designs for their clothing, and a string of lawsuits have claimed that A+F’s quasi-Aryan hiring standards are discriminatory; Jeffries’ tone-deaf response to these incidents was always that the brand just “wasn’t for these kinds of people” (i.e. minorities, the overweight, the disabled, the short, etc.). The legal system repeatedly disagreed, and in 2004, the company paid out $40 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by minority employees and applicants.
Abercrombie and Fitch has been flagging as a company over recent years, with the brand’s whole preppy gestalt seeming dated and cheaper competitors like American Eagle edging ahead. And besides—the entire dominant aesthetic has changed in the last decade. Millennial teens don’t even know what a “shopping mall” is and have no patience for the kind of cheesy, exclusive Americana peddled by Abercrombie and their ilk. The internet has mixed everything up, and a world of greater interconnectivity has created a generally more inclusive teen culture that rejects the entire paradigm that spawned the success of Jeffries’ early tenure. Jeffries is a dinosaur, and whether he admits it or not, has been dislodged, to the relief of his employees—who are tired of his bullshit—as well as the world at large. Good riddance.