When I was a teenager, we didn’t have Abercrombie & Fitch in my mall. I lived in a small town and the best we had was Bluenotes jeans, where my friends and I drooled over “name-brand” jeans in sizes that squeezed the tiny bit of fat on our stomach and thighs, and overpriced T-shirts that were made of cheap cloth and bore an expensive logo. But we wanted Abercrombie clothes. We wanted them because the kids on TV wore them. We wanted them because they looked cool.
Let’s pause there for a second. The clothes looked cool, and we wanted them so that we could look cool, too.
Image Credit: FaceMePLS via Flickr
The CEO of Abercrombie, Mike Jeffries, set his marketing strategy up this way. See, Jeffries wants you to look cool in his clothes, especially if you’re a young teen. But if you’re fat, or ugly, or not athletic? Please don’t darken the doors of his stores. You’re not who he wants to market to. He doesn’t want to see his clothes on your back. You’re not cool enough – oh, unless you’re a man. Then there are XL and XXL sizes for you. Because bigger men are okay, but big women are gross and uncool.
When I was a teenager, I was not cool. I didn’t hang out with the “popular crowd” (and I didn’t want to). I was an artsy, strange girl who wore braids in her hair and black jean overalls over white T-shirts. I liked Abercrombie clothes at first, as much as we saw in our town, but I didn’t feel much draw towards them as high school went on. For me, clothes weren’t about being cool. For me, it wasn’t what you wore – it was how you acted. I stopped caring about looking like everyone else and started to really rejoice in looking like myself.
The kids that Jeffries is attempting to sell his clothes to wouldn’t have been caught dead in them when I was in high school. They wore their own styles and weren’t interested in following the crowd. The kids who wanted the Abercrombie clothes weren’t popular, or well-liked, or even noticed in the hallways. They were kids who were lonely. They were kids who didn’t fit the status quo. And they were fat, or not conventionally pretty, and they were definitely not athletic. But they wore the clothes and felt like they belonged.
Jeffries can choose to market to whomever he wants. I, as a fat woman who’s not conventionally pretty, but is a pretty snappy dresser, am simply going to sit back and laugh at the pure audacity of an adult man trying to perpetuate high school stereotypes to sell clothes. I’m also going to laugh at the idea of him trying to lure popular, stereotypically cool kids to his store by promising them they can look just like everyone else. Dude, those ain’t the kids you want to market to. And if you’re looking to fit in yourself somehow by doing it? You’re failing pretty miserably.
See, the kids who will buy your clothes are the kids who have never felt like they belonged – maybe just like you, Mr. Jeffries. They’re the kids who are looking for neutral styles that make them look trendy. They want to not feel like fat kids, or ugly kids, for one day in their lives. And you’re ignoring them and playing into stereotypes that crush them into those roles because you have some weird idea about only cool kids being worthy to wear your clothing.
Like I said, dude, you can market to whom you want. This post isn’t going to change anything. But as a fellow marketer, I’m wondering about your strategy . . . because there are a ton of other clothing stores who recognize the need to feel good in your own skin, and are starting to sell clothing to the people who traditionally never do. They’re offering unique pieces that even the coolest kids will be interested in. So not only are you driving away your hated demographic, you’re also driving away the demographic you want in your stores.
Plus, the popular kids I knew weren’t interested in perpetuating stereotypes. The kids I knew weren’t friends, but they were friendly. They stood up for kids who got teased and they fought for equality. There were kids who did care about exclusivity and putting others down, but they were few and far between when I was in high school. So out of a huge population of high school students, you’ve got maybe 5% interested in the marketing strategy you’re coming out. What about the other 95%?
Well, we’ll be shopping with the retailers who care about making us feel good – because they know that’s the way to make money.
And, Mr. Jeffries?
I’m a lot cooler as a strong, badass, feminist fat chick than I ever was as an insecure thin teen. I think you’ll find that fat doesn’t necessarily equal uncool for the majority of the population, after all.
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