White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch (2022) Movie Script

[crew member] 101. Take four.
[producer] Thank you.
[man 1] Recruiting is everything.
My name is Jose Sanchez.
Sorry, I'm stopping you
because I work forAbercrombie & Fitch.
I'm a recruiter. I'm looking for people
to work part-time in a store.
Nothing crazy. Five, ten, 15 hours a week.
We hire good-looking people.
Can we forget about the things I said
When I was drunk?
I didn't mean to call you that
[woman 1] When I was in high school,
Abercrombie & Fitch
was the hottest retailer.
[woman 2] It was one of those stores
that when you're walking around,
you do a walk-through.
Please tell me why
My car is in the front yard
It was such a pop culture phenomenon.
[man 2] There was just
this huge explosion.
If you weren't wearing Abercrombie,
you weren't cool.
I came in through the window
[man 3]
I just remember the pressure to fit in,
being like,
"I wish I had that Abercrombie thing."
[woman 4] I don't feel this way now,
but then it was very cool
to look like everyone else.
[Sanchez] There was a guy,
blond hair, blue-eyed,
just shredded
like he was carved out of granite.
And he wore Abercrombie & Fitch.
-What it was selling was aspirational.
My car is in the front yard
This, like, perfect image
of an all-American youth.
[woman 3] I would
walk past Abercrombie like,
"What is so special about this store?"
It is so thin and white.
[woman 5] Fraternity,
boarding school,
upper crust,
preppy with money.
[man 4] When I wore
the Abercrombie clothes,
I felt different,
and I thought things might be different.
[man 5] There's a reason
why people liked that brand.
It's because exclusion
is part of our society.
I think the first time
I saw Abercrombie & Fitch,
a girl was carrying a bag
with a half-naked, pretty hot white guy
in black and white.
And I thought, "What is that?"
[man 6]Abercrombie sold a dream.
It almost was like your fantasy,
like a young person's fantasy.
They literally made so much money
marketing clothes
but advertising them
with no clothes on, so
[camera shutter clicking]
[chuckles] You got used to that.
The more you shoot with Abercrombie,
the more you're, like,
comfortable with being half naked
and the clothes you're modeling
not actually being on you.
[woman 1] When you look back on it
as an adult, it can feel shocking.
But as a teenager,
you just thought it was cool.
I saved enough money to buy one top,
and I wore it as often as I could
without looking weird.
It said "Abercrombie & Fitch" on the arm.
So it would be like
"Look, I'm cool." [laughs]
At least at my high school,
there was girls
who would cut out the guys from the bags
and hang up those pictures
in their locker.
I liked the posters or the photographs,
and all my books were covered in them.
The Abercrombie would go on the spine,
and then the picture
would go on each side.
[man 7] The clothes were nothing special,
but it was the label on the clothes
and Abercrombie across your chest
that was almost like
a badge of distinction.
[man 4] I associated the brand
with, like, frat boys, rugby players.
Like, the white guys that played
unconventional sports like lacrosse.
It's not like other companies
where they have a celebrity,
like, "I'm gonna be
just like Brad Pitt one day."
Like, no, you're not.
But you can belike
the Abercrombie guy one day.
Very innocent, small town-type people.
The people that bought the clothes
are the people in the campaign.
-[interviewer] Where you from?
-PA, baby. Amish County, PA.
-New York, New York.
-Dallas, Texas.
[man 4] I went to Stanford,
and my freshman year roommate,
he had the catalogs
with all of the, like, shirtless,
rugby-playing, rowing Abercrombie dudes,
and on his dorm closet,he, like,
made a whole collage of these men.
So I would say there was, like,
50 little cutouts
of Abercrombie shirtless guys
just posted on his-- on his dorm closet.
So obviously it was then that I noticed
that it was, like, a super white thing.
I grew up in Washington, DC,
and in seventh grade,
I went to Sidwell Friends High School,
the high school
where Malia and Sasha Obama went,
Chelsea Clinton went,
so this very elite private school
in Upper Northwest Washington, DC.
I was all into hip-hop and R&B,
so my designers at that time
were kind of FUBU, Mecca,
and these urban wear designers
that had really emerged
in the late '80s and early '90s.
And I got to Sidwell,
and I heard of this thing
called Abercrombie & Fitch.
I didn't know
what was so special about this brand,
but at Sidwell, it was the thing to have.
I remember seeing kids who definitely had
more money than I did wearing the clothes
and just wanting to be
a part of that look.
Can't you see our generation
Goin' down the tubes
The super low-rise jeans,
showing the midriff,
belly button area was definitely in.
Remember when we were
Kids hangin' out
You know, even, I think,
celebrities were wearing it.
Well, now the whole damn generation
[Ocampo] Abercrombie & Fitch used people
before they were
anything more than models.
-Say goodbye to your generation
-Taylor Swift.
Jennifer Lawrence.
Channing Tatum.
-Say goodbye to your generation
-Ashton Kutcher.
[Barrientos] Heidi Klum.
[Ocampo] January Jones.
I mean,
we were looking at full-on advertisements
as telling us what was cool.
Magazines were definitely a big thing
because social media just wasn't there.
Oops, I did it again
[Karo] MTV, the Video Music Awards,
and the House of Style television show
gave flyover country access to the things
that they wouldn't see ordinarily.
Please welcome 98 Degrees to TRL.
Trends that might have begun on the east
or west coast now are being shown on MTV
and through their channels,
and it made styles move across the country
much more quickly.
The same happened in malls.
I was lying on the grass
On Sunday morning of last week
That mall culture was everything.
You went to shop with your family.
You went to hang out with friends.
We hung out at the mall,
like, every weekend.
[Ocampo] My friends and I,
behind our parents' back,
would sneak over to the mall and hang out.
We would have our schoolbags,
dressed in our Catholic school uniform.
[woman 4] The mall was the place
everyone went to pass time.
So when I turned 16,
I knew that's where I wanted to work.
I know it's up for me
If you steal my sunshine
Making sure I'm not in too deep
If you steal my sunshine
Imagine, like, a search engine
that you could walk through.
Or, you know,
an online catalog that's an actual place.
[woman 5] You had to, like,
go to the mall to know what to wear.
Aw, very cool.
[Karo] As more malls opened
and people gravitated toward malls,
not only were they social outlets,
but they catered to all
the different interests all in one place.
Specialty stores enabled you
to be very specific
about what you went shopping for.
You can go to Hot Topic
if you were kind of punkish.
You could go toPac Sun
if you wanted more of that surfer look.
You could go to Abercrombie & Fitch
if you wanted that preppy look.
There were lots of brands doing preppy,
but in terms of designers,
it was undoubtedly
Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica.
One of the earliest brands
to really merge youth culture
and sex appeal
was really Calvin Klein.
What the hell is that?
-A dress.
-[dad] Says who?
Calvin Klein.
It looks like underwear.
What Abercrombie did
was create this middle ground
between sex,
that Calvin Klein was selling,
and all-Americanpreppiness
that Ralph Lauren was selling.
You want what you perceive to be
the cool guy wearing.
That's okay
'Cause I've got no self-esteem
So it became that,
"If only I had Tommy Hilfiger,
I'll be cool."
Or theGUESS jeans.
Oh my goodness.
Some of that stuff was just
You couldn't get it.
Abercrombie & Fitch
was a little bit more affordable.
[Givhan] Just aspirational enough,
but not so expensive
that it was out of reach.
The fundamental idea
is that fashion is selling us belonging,
confidence, cool, sex appeal.
You know, in many ways,
the very last thing
that it's selling is actually garments.
[producer] Do you remember the first time
you went to an Abercrombie store?
Oh yeah! [laughs]
Um, I remember, like, walking in
and just being hit with the sense, like,
"Oh my God, they've bottled this."
"They have absolutely crystallized
everything that I hate about high school
and put it in a store."
[O'Keefe] First you get there, and you
have two hot guys flanking the outside.
So if you make it past
those hot guys, right,
without a little distraction
or a little bit of intimidation.
When I started there, it was around the
holidays, so they'd also have a Santa hat.
So, Santa hat, topless and jeans.
[Karo] One of the things
that Abercrombie did quite brilliantly
was put up brown shutters over the windows
and a big image
in the front doorway at the entry.
So you couldn't see what was in the store
unless you went into the store.
No other mall retailer did that.
I mean, they forced you
to come over the threshold.
I'll be with you, girl
Like bein' low
Hey, hey, hey, like bein' stoned
[Barrientos] It had a whole vibe to it.
And you would know you were getting close
because you would hear music.
[thumping techno music]
[Ocampo] Music full blast,
and parents hated it.
[woman 6] Pulsating nightclub beats.
Massive images
of, like, bare-chested guys.
[man 8] The whole store
was to be an experience,
where people went in there and hung out.
I'll be with you, girl
Like bein' low
[Barrientos] It was considered,
like, all-American look,
and I considered myself
an all-American girl.
[laughs] And so I liked that look.
Like bein' low
Hey, hey, hey, like bein'
-[spray hissing]
[O'Keefe] It's a particular
type of cologne
that only an Abercrombie store would have.
You're hit with the smell. [laughs]
You're hit with the smell of Abercrombie.
That sort of, like, musky, masculine scent
when you walk by.
I actually would see employees walk around
and spray things with this scent.
I get migraines easily,
so it was actually hard for me.
I'd go in, come out
'cause I'd have a headache,
but for teenagers, it was probably fine.
I got a lot of it for free,
and it smelled--
Their cologne always smelled really good.
My mom was not a fan of the store,
and I remember her asking me,
"I don't understand why you shop there."
The staff was horrendous, to be honest.
We at the company used to talk about it.
-Their job was not to be attentive at all.
-[woman] Excuse me?
[man 9] Actually, their job was to pretend
like you were annoying them.
Excuse me.
Somebody at MADtv
must have worked atAbercrombie,
or their brother must have worked there
because they had
the culture of Abercrombie so pegged.
You only got one dressing room.
There's a line. Could you open another?
They weren't exaggerated.
Do you have the key?
Nah, brah.
I think Dutch has it.
Hey, Dutch, you got the key?
[Tkacik] They really do a good job
of capturing, like,
"Where am I? Like, what is this place?"
Hey, Storm, you got the key?
Oh! Yeah, I do. My bad.
[employees laughing]
[woman 7] Every piece of Abercrombie
was by design.
By Mike's design.
The stores, the product, the whole thing,
he was-- he would sign off on.
I was a merchant
reporting directly to Mike.
Essentially, we were together nonstop.
I think I was his second hire.
He had a pure mission,
and that was to buildAbercrombie.
[woman 8] Mike Jeffries was known
to be kind of quiet
in the broadest public sphere, you know.
He was not someone
who was giving a lot of TV interviews
or press interviews,
but I think, in person,
he was very charismatic.
[Martin] Michael Jeffries, a very handsome
man from Southern California.
Fit, uh, very intelligent.
I would say much more private.
Not shy, private.
He had a pure mission,
and that was to buildAbercrombie
and, you know, make it successful.
[producer] What was the main thing
that motivated him?
[sighs] Well, like everybody,
financial reward.
[woman 6] Mike Jeffries
comes to Abercrombie
when it's still a part of Les Wexner's
retail empire out in Columbus, Ohio,
so it's part
of the Limited's family of brands.
[man 10] As a 25-year-old,
I was going to everybody
that had retail spaces and say,
"I have this idea for a store."
"Would you rent me space?"
And everybody turned me down.
I had no money, no store.
I just had an idea.
Leslie H. Wexner is one of the great
retail masterminds of America.
He is the brains behind
a lot of the mall chains
that we have in the country today.
He was known
as the Merlin of the Mall, actually.
[fruit machine chiming]
[Karo] Les Wexner built brands
in one of two ways.
He would either take an existing brand
and try a new concept
that lived within that existing brand
and thenspin it out if it was successful,
or he would acquire
a brand that was failing.
[Rupp] Abercrombie already had
been around for 100 years.
It started as this outdoorsman brand,
you know, very Americana heritage.
[Berfield] E.B. White described
the windows of the store
as being kind of the masculine dream.
[Maheshwari] And it catered
to sort of elite sportsmen.
[news reporter] On leaving
the White House, he led a safari to Africa
and proved his worth as a big-game hunter.
[Maheshwari] It sold to Teddy Roosevelt,
Ernest Hemingway.
[Rupp] It fell on hard times.
Les Wexner's company bought Abercrombie.
They kind of tried to revamp the brand.
It was a companythat had
shaving cream, books,
fishing gear, and all this stuff
that old guys like Teddy Roosevelt
would probably love to have.
[Karo] When Les first bought it,
he tried to sort of recreate that
and couldn't make that work,
which is when, I think,
he brought in Mike Jeffries,
a failed CEO of Alcott & Andrews,
which was a women's brand
that focused on
professional businesswomen apparel.
He brings in Mike Jeffries
and says, "Let's try it again."
And that's when the idea of Abercrombie
as we know it today came into formation.
We knew we wanted to be the coolest brand
for the 18- to 22-year-olds.
[Rupp] When Mike gets there, initially,
he's wearing loafers and khakis,
and eventually, that transitions
sort of to this button-down,
jeans, and sandals look.
He came up with this formula that worked.
He found a way to connect
sort of the heritage of Abercrombie,
as established in 1892,
catering to elite, privileged people
and combined it
with this very sexy, sexual imagery.
[Berfield] It was meant to be exclusive.
[register rings]
He was proud of it
being an exclusive brand
that conveyed what he considered
kind of a sense of cool.
We built posters, and we put,
"This is whatAbercrombie is."
"This is what Abercrombie isn't."
-Abercrombie, the dog is a golden.
-[dog barks]
-And the poodle is not Abercrombie.
-[dog whimpers]
The Abercrombie college kid drives a Jeep.
-[engine revs]
-And he doesn't drive the sedan.
[horn beeps]
Fashion is an industry that is notorious
for not particularly doing
a lot of market research.
The goal is not to give people
what they're asking for,
but to make them ask
for what you're offering.
[bell ringing]
[Rupp] So in 1996,
Mike Jeffries tookAbercrombie public.
They were no longer
a part of Les Wexner's empire.
[woman 9] The brand was just on top.
He would have these quarterly meetings,
and they were like massive pep rallies,
you know, around the fire pit
to discuss how much money we're making.
They're just like, "Money, money!"
[Smith-Maglione] You know,
we all had stock, the early people.
I always sayI was in the right place
at the right time.
[Blumberg] Abercrombie Kids
launched as well.
And then Hollister sold
that sort of California dream.
Abercrombie & Fitch really hada monopoly
on this, like, lifestyle apparel.
And it helped
make Leslie Wexner a billionaire.
[Tkacik] They built this massive campus
that was just like a college campus.
They were, like,
one of the first big companies to do that,
and the whole idea was that work was life
and life was work.
Everybody would pull all-nighters
because it was like
you were hanging out with your friends.
[camera shutter clicking]
My team called it 13th grade,
'cause it was like-- [laughing]
It did feel like that.
Mike would have
these dinners at his house.
They were huge, catered, crazy events.
There was a lot of partying, hooking up.
Then party with the waitstaff
well after he left and went up to bed.
David Leino tattooed himself
with Abercrombie.
I mean, this became a thing.
It-- it was like a disease
of "Abercrombie is it,
and if you don't, you know, live it
and breathe it, then don't come here."
That's It was the culture.
[Sanchez] It was your life,
but it wasn't a bad life.
You're going out
three, four, five nights a week.
-We would start with two Irish car bombs.
-[ice clinks]
That's how we started our night.
That's what Abercrombie wanted.
We were seen as a cool group.
In the first week
that I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch,
the HR rep talked abouthow you could
write Abercrombie & Fitch with dog shit
and put it on a baseball hat
and sell it for 40 bucks.
And she was just like, "That's where
we are right now. It's awesome."
[Berfield] Mike Jeffries, from the start,
used his abilities
and the resources he had fromWexner,
uh, to begin marketing.
[man 9] The imagery that built
that company doesn't exist anymore.
Now it would be through Instagram.
Abercrombie would be, like, an OnlyFans,
I think. Do you know what I mean?
So I was editor-in-chief for the duration
of the run of the A&F Quarterly.
[man 8] Quarterly, The Quarterly,
A&F Quarterly, magalog,
all sort of interchangeable terms.
So the team was shockingly small.
You know, Northeastern white guys
kind of putting this thing together.
We're all, like, super young.
I mean, I was 21, 22.
I was very, very lucky to have, like
to report to some of the biggest people
in the fashion industry
as someone just out of college.
[Carone] It felt very DIY.
I mean, that's just sort of the spirit
that Savas and Bruce Weber fostered.
I've always felt that men,
just like women,
really need an appreciation of themselves
and the way they look physically.
I don't think you can overstate
the impact that Bruce Weber
his aesthetic had.
I mean,
Mike put all his eggs in that basket.
The Abercrombie aesthetic
is Bruce Weber's aesthetic.
These joyful group shots,
young people,
sex, Americana,
golden retrievers, out in the countryside.
[man 11] Bruce Weber is, I think,
the highest-paid photographer.
He was famous.
And he was doing Calvin Klein,
he was doing everyone,
and he made a beautiful book
called Bear Pond.
I'd never seen anything like it,
and that's when I knew I was gay.
Every, uh gay man I know owns--
I certainly-- There's a copy over there.
[Givhan] Abercrombie and Bruce Weber
did some video content.
[crew] This is Brandon. Take one. Mark.
[Weber] This is a musical we're doing,
and we need you to dance. Do you dance?
I don't really dance,
but I pretend I dance,
and that's usually good enough.
[man 12] It was clear to anyone
who was paying attention
that there were many gay men
involved in all of it.
I think the brilliance of the brand
was that that was
like, went right over the head
of their target customer,
like, the straight, college frat bro.
After college, I moved to San Francisco
and was working at XY Magazine,
which was a magazinefor young gay men.
A lot of high school students
would send us their photo
and would send us
an essay or an experience
of what it was like
being out in their high school.
It was still possible in the late '90s
to be a gay kid in Iowa
and to think that you were the only one.
More of those boys
started wearing Abercrombie,
and that fashion world,
and that kind of masculinity,
and whatever that meant,
all of this was happening
in the late '90s.
[Givhan] For a lot of people,
they looked at those ads and those videos
and were like,
"My fantasy is being represented."
What Bruce Weber does is to give back
to gay people this classical thing.
It's, like, take away shame from the past,
this distance from immediate sex
or sex jokes or gayness.
It's like a
a distance.
Bruce Weber is not the first person
to do Bruce Weber boys.
There's been a history of it
going back to ancient Greece.
Abercrombie came to me
and asked me to create the murals
for the Abercrombie stores.
These homoerotic but beautiful guys
interacting with each other.
They make you think about the eternal
and that everything is forever good.
Take one. Mark.
So I'm the armpit guy.
Abercrombie found a niche
with finding brand new models.
Middle America,
big, strong, like, dudes.
And I was like
[mimics accent] "Oh yeah, don't you know,
I'm, like, here from Minnesota
for my modeling."
I guess I looked like what they kind of
were always puttin' out there.
I'm from Nebraska.
I was captain of the football team,
of the wrestling team,
homecoming king, all that kind of stuff.
It wasn't, like, a big dream of mine
to be an Abercrombie model.
I was drunk in a bar, and some lady--
some gal that was apparently
a scout for Abercrombie was like, um,
"Will you come into the store tomorrow?
You have a great look."
We took a couple Polaroids,
and then three weeks later,
I was in Brazil.
That was the first time I saw the ocean
and traveled outside of Nebraska.
People on crew would just insinuate
to just be yourself, be original,
just do whatever.
You know, climb trees, jump in water.
Bruce, if you caught his eye
doing something natural,
interacting with the wilderness,
that would be a good way
to get your picture taken.
There would just be guys in a tree,
just like, "Hey, Bruce!
It's a tree, and I'm in it."
Or just, like, doing push-ups on a curb.
The guys were so testosteroney
'cause it's a bunch of ripped dudes.
And then the guys
are trying to impress the women.
It's really It's just, like,
humanity at its basic level.
[Sanchez] Three, four times a year,
we got Bruce Weber photos
to put up in our store.
When you're excited about
the unveil of the Bruce Weber photos
Who did they choose as the representative
of Abercrombie & Fitch?
There's other brands for-- for everybody.
That's Abercrombie & Fitch.
It behooved me to get out
and recruit these types of people
so that they could create an environment.
How do you think you're gonna do?
Pretty good.
I'm head of the class
I'm popular
[Denizet-Lewis] The stores would
each focus on a particular college campus,
and they would try to recruit
the best-looking fraternity guys.
If a fraternity guy was popular,
other people would say,
"All right, what's he wearing?"
And wanna copy that.
I'm the party star
I'm popular
The bet was that if we get
the right guys on the right fraternities
to wear the clothes and be ambassadors
for the clothes, then that's gonna--
Other people are gonna wanna copy that.
It was, like,pre-digital,
like, influencer marketing.
As a manager at Abercrombie,
they teach you very early on
about recruiting.
You just-- You have to recruit,
but not only do you have to recruit,
you have to recruit good-looking people,
and this is what good-looking looks like.
We literally had a book.
[female voice] Exhibiting the A&F look
is a tremendously important part
of the overall experience
at the Abercrombie & Fitch stores.
Our people in the store
are an inspiration to the customer.
A neatly combed, attractive,
natural, classic hairstyle is acceptable.
Dreadlocks are unacceptable
for men and women.
Gold chains are not acceptable for men.
Women may wear
a thin, short, delicate silver necklace.
Brand representatives are requiredto wear
appropriate undergarments at all times.
The A&F look.
No other mall brand went to the extreme
that Abercrombie did
in micromanaging the look
of everything from the store
down to, like, the person
who was cleaning up the stockroom.
Jeffries was an extreme--
He was very much a micromanager.
I mean, if you look at the stores,
they were absolutely pristine. Right?
I mean, it was--
Every detail, Mike cared about.
[Rupp] Mike Jeffries was well-known
for his unannounced store visits.
He cared about what stores looked like,
and he wanted to see them in person.
A lot of people
have called them "blitzes."
[Sanchez] So say a visit was on Friday.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
you were doin' all-nights.
This is where we gotta make sure,
like, everything is spick-and-span.
Everything gets wiped down.
There's no dust anywhere.
The moose head looks clean.
But the thing that mattered most,day-of,
was who was working.
There were some people
that you kept on staff just for visits.
It wasn't, "Hey, your store'snot hitting
this number or hitting that number."
It was, "You gotta get
more good-looking people in here."
The high-water mark,
when we all finally knew that we made it,
was when LFO came out with "Summer Girls."
That LFO song.
"Summer Girls."
I like girls who wear
Abercrombie & Fitch
"I like girls that wear
Abercrombie & Fitch."
I'd take 'em if I had one wish
"I think it's fly"
Something about summer. "the summer."
It came out in the summer.
"We're doing something right."
I like girls that wear
Abercrombie & Fitch
I'd take her if I had one wish
She's been gone since that summer
That was probably the coolest thing
that had ever happened to Mike Jeffries.
In that moment, he'd knew he'd--
he'd done what he wanted.
From a purely creative point of view,
he was a mad genius.
He knows what he's doing
and what he wants,
and he's kinda like,
"I don't care what anyone else is doing."
"I'm gonna do what I think
is beautiful, cool," you know, whatever.
[sighs] And he did. He executed on it.
So my first interaction withAbercrombie
was receiving a catalog out of the blue.
I don't know how I got
on their mailing list.
And I remember seeing
these young people smiling and frolicking,
and I was like,
"When I'm in college, maybe
maybe I'm gonna hang out with my friends
in a field, like, arm-to-arm like this
and jump around and, I don't know,
get in a dog pile like they do
in these catalogs."
[laughing] I don't know!
My name's Phil Yu. I run a blog
called Angry Asian Man
to talk about my Asian American identity
and my community.
I remember some readers
started sending photos to me about like,
"Have you seen this shit at Abercrombie?"
You know, and it was--
It was these T-shirts.
Graphic tees for us were our personality.
You know, we were moving at light speed.
The graphic tee business
was a one and donetype thing,
so you had to continuously produce art.
All those stupid slogans we put on there
and everything, that was us.
We didn't have copywriters.
They really wanted us to be irreverent.
They really wanted us to be funny,
relevant to that late teen,
early 20s, like, college crowd.
[Sheahan] One of the themes
was Buddha Fest,
and it had, like,
a clich Asian big fat Buddha.
I do remember one
that I got a kick out of that was like,
"West Virginia,
no lifeguards in this gene pool."
I laughed at the time,
and now I'm like,
"That's really offensive and problematic."
The second shirt on the table
was "Juan more for the road."
So they had a donkey
holding a taco with a sombrero.
The one that everybody remembers,
Wong Brothers,
advertising a fictional laundry service.
The slogan was,
"Two Wongs can make it white."
Pop culture Orientalism, right?
-[buzzer sounds]
[Yu] It's all this stufftaken from
people's understanding of Asians
if you just watched
American TV and movies.
[gong sounds]
What's happenin', hot stuff?
[Yu] So it's the kitschy font
and the-- sort of the caricatures
of the buck-toothed
and the slant-eyed Asian, so
"Two Wongs can make it white."
Asian Americans are often taught
that you're supposed to
just keep your head down,
not rock the boat,
especially as a lot of us
are the children of immigrants.
But I think
at that moment, I was like,
"It's okay to be angry about this."
[Gruys] I don't know what it was,
but, like, the kids,
the consumers
just loved wearing those tees,
so we kept makin' 'em.
And they were cheap.
You could sell tees
for, like, an 85% markup.
Whenever something like this happens,
I always imagined in my mind
a scenario where somebody, like--
Man, if they just had
one person who was like,
"Maybe this is not a good idea."
I had nothing to do with whatever,
but I will say this.
Two of the main team people
were Asian Americans,
which is why
it got approved in the first place.
You know, whenever-- This is--
I feel like you just dropped a bomb on me.
In terms of-- What?
There was an Asian designer there?
Maybe there was somebody,
and then, you know,your cover is--
is the one Asian guy in the room.
It's the one guy who's like, "I don't"
"Do you find it offensive?"
And is that guy really gonna be,
like, "No." I mean, "Yeah."
Or is he gonna say-- Or is he gonna
flip over the table and be, like,
"I-- No, I think this is
really offensive to my identity."
In this corporate, stuffy environment
where everyone around you is white,
and you're like--
I don't know if that's really
a safe place to do that, right?
[camera shutter clicking]
This blatant racist product
got a lot of Asian American students
particularly enraged.
They were hitting them where,
"This was supposed to be my jam,
supposed to be for me,"
and that's where the reaction
really started to grow amongst students,
Asian American student groups.
[crowd yelling]
There's always people who don't really see
the pain behind something like that
and just see it
as a funny thing that happened.
The protest was nonviolent and orderly,
but the same cannot be said
of the parking lot
when they all went to drive home.
[audience laughter]
[producer] Let's talk about
the Two Wongs shirt.
That shirt-- That's one of the tees
that I remember. [laughs]
Mike would pull everything
back from the stores,
and we actually would burn them
to make surenobody ever ended up
getting the merchandise.
But they kept
the "Juan more for the road."
Clearly, it was, like, a donkey, you know.
they were insinuating something.
[Yu] The poor publicist
who has to write this,
they actually said, "We thought
that Asians would love these shirts."
That's from a press release
from-- from Abercrombie.
We were always just trying to be
quick-witted and things like that.
And, um I know
that we made a couple mistakes.
We kind of owned up to our responsibility,
made it
right as fast as we could,
and then we kind of,
you know, learned and moved on.
Then we would get in trouble,
and, "Don't do that again."
"But do something just like it," you know.
Obviously, it's from the top down
if they approve those kinds of shirts,
of what there whatmight have been
going on behind the scenes.
You know,
they're operating in a bubble, right?
They're operating in a place
where they don't see what it comes down to
at that consumer level
of this Asian kid looking at these shirts
and being like, "What is this bullshit?"
Or being confused.
"Is this supposed to be cool?"
Like, "This is all I see of myself
when I look at pop culture."
Like, "Maybe this is
what I'm supposed to accept
as an Asian American," you know.
The first time I became aware
of the image becoming problematic for me
was SamRaimi's Spider-Man.
I think it came out in 2001,
with Tobey Maguire.
Flash, it was just an accident!
If you know the comics, Peter Parker's
biggest bully is Flash Thompson,
and he's traditionally been
a big, blond, like, asshole.
In the movie, he is dressed head-to-toe
in Abercrombie the entire time,
and it really upset me.
It really, really upset me.
I was like, "That's not good."
I knew it wasn't good. Know what I mean?
'Cause something had shifted there, so
[producer] Before that,
what did Abercrombie signify to you?
It was-- It was a cool kid
who would never do anything like that.
I'm the head of the class
I'm popular
In 2003, I was a retail reporter
at The Wall Street Journal,
and, um, I'm in New York, visiting stores.
A colleague and Iwalk into
this American Eagle Outfitters store.
My colleague immediately starts
chatting up the manager.
She asked, "How'd you end up
at American Eagle Outfitters?"
And she says, "I was a district manager
for Abercrombie & Fitch,
and then I moved over."
And my colleague says,
"Oh, that's interesting."
"It's a slightly different culture,
trying to keep everybody brand positive."
And this manager just starts crying.
And she's like,"I'm so happy here."
"I get to hire who I want."
She gestures to the guy
who's leading women to the dressing room,
who's, like, a light-skinned Black guy
with dreadlocks.
And my colleague sort of nods
like she understands what is being said.
I'm clearly not getting something here.
So I started interviewing people who had
Abercrombie & Fitch on theirrsums,
and, essentially, what I learned was,
most people were recruited
for the job on the basis of their looks.
What I started to sense
was that they were firing people too.
And that was the thing that really got me,
because that seemed
like it maybe wasn't legal?
So I finally found a manager,
um, to sort of tell me, "Listen,
you have to rank all your employees
on the scale of, like, cool to rocks."
"And if they aren't at least cool,
then you have to zero them out
off the schedule."
It didn't matter what your sales were.
All that mattered was that
the employees that you took pictures of
and sent back to headquarters were hot.
Clearly this is illegal?
I wasn't ever scheduled a ton of hours.
So I went to one of the managers,
and I said,
"Hey, can I have more day shifts?"
And he said, "You know,
there aren't any. They're packed."
"All we have are these night shifts."
I remember telling him,
"I don't like vacuuming," you know.
"I don't like cleaning the windows,"
and he told me, "But, Carla,
you're such a good window washer."
"You're so good at it."
And I told him,
"Well, you know, I can swap with someone."
"My friend said she'd be fine
to swap this four-hour shift."
"She doesn't mind working at night."
"Well, no,
we don't like you guys to swap."
"If you were assigned that shift,
you were assigned it."
So I complain to my girlfriend,
"I can't believe this. What is going on?"
She told me, "I bet they're not
scheduling you because you're Black."
"Like, no other Black people work there."
When she said that,
it was one of those, like
"Oh, I know.
Like, in the heart of my heart, I know."
"I know that's why,
but maybe I can do something
to overcome that."
"This is a company.
This isn't, like, one person
stopping me."
And then after that,
I was not on the schedule.
And I remember asking him,
"What should I do? Do I still work here?"
"I haven't been on the schedule
in two months,"
and he's like,
"No, you do. Just keep calling us."
I knew I had been fired,
and I just moved on.
I mean, there wasn't a resignation.
There wasn't anyone that called me.
I just It was over.
Where our store was
was in very close proximity to UC Irvine.
UC Irvine is known as UCI,
University of Chinese and Indians.
It's, like, 75% Asian.
Korean, Indian, Chinese, Japanese.
So it wasn't a surprise
that a lot of the staff
were of Asian descent.
We finished the holiday season,
and we're notified by a note saying,
"If you don't have a paycheck," you know,
"you've been let go for the season."
My name wasn't on the list,
so I talked to my other friends.
I was like,"My name wasn't on the list.
Did you guys--"
They're like, "We're not on the list."
And I was like, "That's super weird."
Then we talked to our assistant manager,
who's Asian American.
He said the real reason
is because after the corporate blitz,
one of the people from corporate
went around,
and they noticed
a bunch of Asian people in the store.
They said,"You need more staff
that looks like this."
And they pointed to an Abercrombie poster,
and it was-- it was a Caucasian model.
It hurt because I hadsuch
a positive experience with this company,
and to find out they were like,
"No, we don't want you
because of the way you look,"
it actually was very hurtful.
Then I took all the posters down.
It was because I didn't look like
those people in the photograph
that that's why
I didn't work there anymore.
I was mad.
But what are you gonna do?
We're, like, 21-year-olds. What do you do?
It seemed super explicit.
I went to the store.
I spoke with whoever was working there,
and she said,
"I'm sorry. We can't rehire you."
And I asked, "Why not?"
And she said,
"My manager said we can't rehire you
'cause we already have
too many Filipinos working at this store."
I was like, "Are you serious?"
And she looked pretty uncomfortable,
and she was like, "Yeah."
At no point did I ever say I was Filipino,
so that was a guess on the part
of the person that worked there
that I was Filipino.
I remember telling my parents,
and I told close friends.
They heard it and they very much agreed
with me that that was fucked up.
I guess people didn't know what to do,
including my parents.
Like, what do you tell your kid
when someone says that we can't hire you
'cause of who you are?
I talked to my mom
about everything going on,
and she basically said,
"I'm really surprised
that you even wanted to work there."
She's like,
"I'm sure you were fine to clean up,
but that store made it clear,
from my eyes,
that they didn't want
people like us there."
She's like,
"I honestly didn't expect anything else."
"That store, everything about that store
screamed that we were an other."
"We didn't fit there."
[male voice]
Walk into any upscale boutique,
and you'll see salespeople who look like
they walked off the fashion pages.
Retailers seek out workers
whose look they feel will sell clothes.
But can maintaining that look
become a form of racial discrimination?
That's what the firm
of Abercrombie & Fitch
is being accused of.
The nine plaintiffs in this new suit
claim they were fired or not hired
because they weren't white enough.
When I did get scheduled,
I would have to come in at closing time.
I was one of the named plaintiffs
on theAbercrombie lawsuit.
Joining me now
are two of the plaintiffs in this suit,
Anthony Ocampo and Jennifer Lu.
I am one of the people
that sued Abercrombie. [laughs]
[Sheahan] We wanted to represent
the people that this had happened to
and give them a voice and make sure
that Abercrombie was held accountable.
All-American doesn't mean all-white.
One of my friends, who's Mexican-American,
was working for MALDEF,
the Mexican American Legal Defense
and Education Fund,
and he was working for Tom Saenz,
and it turns out
that Tom had heard other rumblings
of people being discriminated
at Abercrombie.
In this case, I could go to the mall
and verify what our client had told us,
and so I did that.
I would go into the A&F store,
and I would look at
who the retail workers were.
And then I'd literally cross the hall
and go to a similar retail establishment,
whether it was Old Navy
or Banana Republic or the Gap,
and the contrast was just striking.
In those other stores,
you would see a workforce
that looked like Southern California,
mostly young people of color
doing the retail work.
At Abercrombie & Fitch,
it was almost entirely
white retail workers.
We're not talking about
a single individual who was denied a job,
as terrible as that is
and as unlawful as that is.
We're talking about practices
going on across the country
at hundreds of stores
affecting thousands of students.
It was actually difficult
to find folks who could be plaintiffs,
and that's in part
because there were so few people of color
who were employed by Abercrombie & Fitch.
My younger sister text me, or called me.
I don't think we were texting then.
I think it was way too expensive!
But she called me and said,
"I saw this thing on the Internet
about Abercrombie & Fitch
in a racial discrimination lawsuit,"
and she's like, "They definitely
racially discriminated against you!"
[laughs] Um, "You should call them."
I was like, "I wonder
if what happened to me was 'bad enough'."
You know? If that's some-- Does it even--
If I tell them,
would they just be like, "Just move on"?
There was still that piece of,
"It wasn't that bad,"
um, where if you look at things
like racism
or sexism or homophobia that
It does-- Things don't have to
look "that bad."
Someone doesn't have to call you--
Someone doesn't have to call me a nigger
in the middle of Abercrombie & Fitch
for it to be "bad enough."
Um, but, you know, 19-year-old Carla,
I'm thinking, "Well, I don't know."
I've never seen racism that explicit.
I was really pissed off.
Like, I was enraged,
and it never went away.
And so when I was invited
to be part of the lawsuit,
I thought, "Oh, okay."
"Here's an opportunity to
to call Abercrombie on their bullshit
of trying to say
they're an all-American brand,
and yet the way they're maintaining
this image of all-American
is to hire a bunch of white folks
and fire a bunch of people of color."
[man 13] We just asked them, what was
their experience working for Abercrombie,
attempting to apply
to work at Abercrombie,
and themes started to emerge of this
strong, strong preference for white people
over African Americans,
Latinos, Asian Americans,
anybody who didn't fit
this particular look.
I was sick of getting my schedule back
every week with lines through names.
Essentially telling people
they don't look good enough.
I can't look the people that work for me
that wanna be there in the eye and say,
you know, lie to them
and say, "Oh, we don't have hours."
When it's because
they weren't pretty enough.
[Barrientos] Jahan talked to us
about what Abercrombie was saying.
It wasn't thatwe were being
racially discriminated against.
It was that we weren't good-looking enough
to work on the floor.
We're just-- just ugly! [laughs]
It was seriously laughable. We
When we got together, we were like,
"Are you kidding me? What a joke."
I guess it's better that than saying,
"We racially discriminate
against these people."
[laughs] But it was a joke.
It was seriously a joke.
[Sanchez] Abercrombie got sued
in a class-action lawsuit
for putting brown and Black people
in the back.
Abercrombie & Fitch denied the allegations
but settled-- but settled the suit.
Abercrombie really knew
that they had a lot to hide
and offered them
a big settlement right away.
[Berfield] Abercrombie & Fitch
was required to pay almost $50 million
and to make some changes.
Abercrombie agreed
to enter into a consent decree.
[Berfield] So Abercrombie had to create
the position of Chief Diversity Officer.
On one hand, like, great opportunity
to take a company, you know,
that really needs you.
"Do they want you?" is the other question.
I got a call from a search firm.
"Listen, there's an opportunity in Ohio."
"It's a brand called A&F."
I said, "I don't know what that is."
So I went to the mall
and tried to figure it out.
I walked around, I shopped and I looked,
and I said, "Oh. It's different."
I began to figure out what it was about,
which was figuring out
how to reinvent a brand
from the perspective of D&I,
which at the time was not a function.
There was not an office, not a discipline.
There was no muscle.
I had to figure out
how to put it all together.
I said,
"Well, you've been praying to God."
"You've been saying
you need something big."
"I guess he's telling you right now,
this is probably it."
So I asked about
the reporting relationship,
which was the biggest thing
for me to figure out,
and I knew that it would be
to the CEO and chairman.
The work there had inherent challenges.
I had to figure out
how to navigate a lot of them.
Some of the challenges were around,
"How do you create a brand
with fewer contradictions?"
We approach people every day
with our inclusive mindset
that embraces our diversity.
-Come work with me in New York.
-Hong Kong.
-[in unison] The UK.
Someone like myself going into
those circumstances and situations,
you understand, like,
maybe this is a form of "tokenism."
Now, you could either say,
"No way am I going to be a part of that,"
or you can look at it as an opportunity
and then open that door even wider
for people like yourself
and others who haven't necessarily had
that sort of access or opportunity.
[Sanchez] I was a recruiter for a couple
years, developing relationships
on historicallyBlack colleges
and universities.
As a brown man
who very much appears to be white,
wearing allAbercrombie & Fitch,
'cause that's what
we're required to do on campus, you're--
At first, you're getting some dirty looks,
and rightfully so.
When I walked in,
I think 90% of their population was white.
By year five or six,
population went above 53% non-white.
When I transitioned over
to my role in Diversity & Inclusion,
my first meeting
where I was with the store's leadership,
and they were talking about
what we wanted in the stores,
the free, sort of, free flow
of how we talked about beauty
and who was good-looking,
who was not good-looking,
or that person's nose was this or that,
I was like, "I can't believe
we literally talk about people
and dissect people's features like this."
Or, like, it would be written
in a, you know, like, the interview,
like, "Nope," like
It was just-- I couldn't believe it,
to be honest with you. I was shocked.
[Tkacik] Brand reps
were no longer called "brand reps."
They were called either "impact,"
and that meant that you went to the back,
or "model,"
and that meant you could be up front.
I think that, like, the idea was that
calling their minimum wage
retail employees "models,"
you know,Abercrombie could
get away with anything
that a modeling agency
could get away with.
They never put it in words that they were
to be good-looking post-consent decree,
and I think they were more careful
about not necessarily using that word,
but they took care of it
when they got it approved with
the consent decree to call them models.
You took care of it.
Like, nothin' changed as far as that went.
[producer] So, what if an ugly person
applied to be a model?
They interviewed.
They went throughthe same interview
process that the other folks went through.
[producer] But does that mean
they had just as little shot
pre- and post-consent decree
of getting a job?
Oh yeah.
[Tkacik] The consent decree did not force
leadership to change at all.
The entire leadership structure
remained in place.
At that point,Jeffries still had
almost 10% of the stock.
Um, so nothing, nothing changed at all.
A lot of these things
come from the top down.
Between Jeffries and Bruce Weber,
we have some really troubling behavior.
Bruce Weber was able
to take advantage of his power more
because he was so infamous
and so out there.
It was very well known with Bruce
that he liked
young men.
He's gonna invite you over
and try his "good touch, bad touch" thing.
You would
put your hand on your chest,
and he'd put his hand on your hand,
kind of like talking to relax.
And then it was,
"I'm gonna lower your hand."
"Tell me when to stop."
My hand didn't move. [laughs]
So he's like-- he's like,
"No, we're gonna lower your hand,
and then when I--"
And I'm like, "No, that's
We're just We're good."
There was a guy
that would get a call from Bruce.
He would get invited
to come over for dinner.
Like, "Hey, you should come over.
I'm gonna have dinner."
"Play with my dogs."Blah, blah, blah.
Then they'd go over,
and I would not see them the next day.
It was day three, and all of a sudden,
like, the phone rings,
and I'm like, "Oh, I know what that is."
"Hey, Bobby. So I'm sending you a car
to come over for dinner."
And at this moment, the moment is like,
I'm gonna go home or not.
"Yeah, so I'm not gonna be able
to make it."
And he's like, "What? No, you have
to come. It's great for your career."
So I'm like, "No, I'm cool, Bruce,
but thank you very much."
And all of a sudden,
my phone rings in probably one minute.
Let's say less than two minutes,
it rang again. I was like, "What?"
And I pick it up,
and he's like, "Hey, Bobby."
"Unfortunately, you're gonna be cut,
and your flight's ready."
"And your bags Get your bags ready.
And then you have a flight tonight."
It was just like,
in that instant, I was done.
[Daharsh] And then you had
Michael Jeffries.
And it was like he was just there
to have fun on the shoots.
He-- he very clearly
was into young men too.
But he was just so weird that--
Who knows what the fuck--
I don't know what that dude was into.
It seemed like
they were always implementing,
like, a new step to the process.
One of which was
you had to go into, like, this tent
that was closed off,
and it was just Bruce, Bruce Weber,
and Michael Jeffries in there.
Literally, it was an interviewfor them
to see if they liked your personality,
who you were,
and what you brought to the table.
[Berfield] When he ran Abercrombie,
he always sold clothes to women and girls,
but what I think most people saw
and, you know, responded to
was the male image and the male form.
[Tkacik] I don't even think Mike realized
that he was also a gay icon.
It was known or presumed that he was gay,
but he was very secretive
about his personal life.
In the early 2000s,
Mike Jeffries was
still very much closeted.
[Berfield] Jeffries had been married,
had a son.
[Tkacik] His wife was mostly
out of the picture,
and eventually
his life partner, Matthew Smith,
sort of came on within the company.
There's a lot that was probably going on
internally with Mike Jeffries
that very few people
would have been privy to.
[Abadsidis] He was out of control.
I mean, it was really out of control.
It was likehe had
a bunch of terrible plastic surgeries.
He wanted to be young.
He was chasing youth, too, you know?
It's an old story.
I was fascinated by Mike.
I was fascinated by the company.
And Mike was just this strange,
bizarre, interesting man.
I desperately wanted
to write about the company.
I desperately wanted
to get to their headquarters.
They called it Campus.
Then one day, I get a call from an editor
at The New York Times Magazine,
where I had been writing for a few years,
and they say, "Do you wanna do a story
about Abercrombie & Fitch?"
I said, "Absolutely, I'd like to do
this story. How did you get access?"
They said, "They invited us."
It's still a question to me
about why Mike had rejected so many offers
to write about his brand,
but suddenly I was there.
He talked about it.
He said, "This is a diva-free zone."
In a way, he was the diva.
He was making all of the decisions.
They had model stores on the campus.
I watched him walk through
and obsessively look at how the jeans fell
on every mannequin.
Going through the store with him
was revealing of his very clear,
sort of traditional sense
of masculinity and femininity.
Saying things like, "We need
to make this dude look more like a dude."
Uh, for the mannequin,
"We don't want her to look too butch."
That's exactly what he said.
He was going through
the racks ofAbercrombie girls.
He picked up a pair of corduroys
that, I guess to him,
seemed too masculine.
He said, "Who the fuck
are you designing for?"
"Dykes on trikes?"
That language had, um
went a little beyond, um
what was usually implicit,
and became explicit,
which is that we're not just
designing for men and women,
girls and boys.
We're designing
for sexy women and sexy men,
and sexy girls and sexy boys,
and sexy meant hetero sexy,
not "dykes."
I was really interested
in psychoanalyzing him. [laughs]
Like, I mean, I wanted to figure out
who this guy was.
So I asked him about
all the high-profile controversies,
the lawsuits,
and he got incredibly defensive.
And he ended up saying things that were,
like, too too honest.
[no audio]
[Denizet-Lewis] He said,
"Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."
He said,
"Not everyone can wear our clothes."
"I don't want everyone,"
essentially, "wearing our clothes."
He talked about going after the cool kids.
He talked about, and again,
this word, the all-American, um, cool kid.
He sort of fetishized
the all-American boy.
I mean,
he's not the only person in fashion
who believed these things,
but he was the only person,
seemingly, who would say that out loud.
Two days later,
when I left Ohio, I got an email
that they were pulling their participation
from the story.
Which meant, for me, the story was dead
for The New York Times Magazine.
And I wrote the piece for Salon.
You know, the piece, when it came out,
got a little bit of attention
as a profile of this quirky,
highly successful fashion CEO.
So, in 2006,
to openly say that
"We're an exclusionary brand"
apparently was not out of the realm
of things that people would say.
What makes Abercrombie unique for me
is that they were unapologetic about it.
They really went out there.
They hired certain people.
They wanted a certain look.
The ads looked a certain way.
And there wasn't this idea
that we need to come to the table
around diversity and inclusion
and make sure
that everyone feels represented.
They doubled down on being exclusionary.
They doubled down on saying,
"This is a lifestyle that we're selling."
"We want our store representatives
to look like the models in our ads."
"We want this lifestyle
to be associated with us."
"We're not dissociating
from being discriminating in our taste,
in our aesthetics."
One of the reasons
that I didn't wearAbercrombie,
besides it being incredibly expensive,
was because I-- I literally couldn't.
I was the fat, gay, poor kid.
Pretty much, like, the bullying trifecta.
So one night I was up late,
and I was just scrolling the Internet.
The Internet
wasn't as impressive back then.
It was mostly news.
And I came across this article.
It was about Mike Jeffries.
I had never heard of him.
And I read this quote. It says,
"In every school, there are the cool kids,
and then there are the not-so-cool kids."
"Candidly, we go after the cool kids."
"We go after the attractive,
all-American kid with a lot of friends."
"Are we exclusionary?"
I found out
that it was actually seven years old.
That this man had said this
seven years ago,
and no one did anything about it.
Someone who had so much power.
Right? Because that's the thing.
He wasn't just
the CEO of a clothing company.
He was a creator of cool.
And so I start this petition
asking Abercrombie & Fitch to apologize
and to start making plus sizes.
And eventually, I create a press list,
200 names on it,
and I send this press release out
to hundreds of people.
And I go to sleep.
An interview from, get this, 2006
with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries
has gone viral.
[reporter 1] If you're looking for
a women's extra-large blouse,
you're out of luck.
The trendy retailer CEO
doesn't want your business.
[reporter 2] He's crossing a line.
He's crossed the line,
like, a billion times.
Stop shopping atAbercrombie & Fitch.
They actually said, "Fat chicks."
[Tkacik] It shows up on Twitter,
and suddenly it goes viral,
and there's this huge campaign
to oust Mike Jeffries.
Bitch! Your ass would do some good
if Kim Kardashian could squeeze
her big butt into your clothes.
This guy is not attractive.
He's an old hag.
Abercrombie & Fitch
is one of the most racist places
I've ever been to.
They suck inside and out.
And their clothes are overpriced.
Regardless of whether
your T-shirts fit these tits,
I'm not gonna shop in your store.
[reporter 3] He says that if companies
try to target all sizes,
they end up in trouble,
and if you don't alienate anyone,
you don't excite anyone.
-Let's take a look at him again.
-[both laughing]
[girl] If you're judging someone on
how cool they are just by looking at them,
and if you're hiring
only good-looking people,
how about hiring good workers?
[Denizet-Lewis] I interviewed a girl
who had led one of the boycotts,
and she said, "Abercrombie has
the biggest impact on people my age."
Girls think that
they need to be incredibly thin.
Boys think they need to be
this-- this sort of jacked image
that they see when they walk in the stores
and on their advertisements.
She said to me that
there was no brand for her and her friends
that was more influential.
In high school, I suffered with anorexia,
and so I knew
just how harmful that words like that
and rhetoric like that could be
on the psyche of young people.
And that's who
they were talking to, right?
That's who their consumers were.
They were telling young people
that if they didn't look a certain way,
if they weren't a certain type of person,
that they didn't belong in their clothing.
This was weeks and weeks and weeks
that people were talking about this,
covering this.
That's when we get the call
from Abercrombie & Fitch
saying, like,
"Hey, do you wanna come to Ohio
and, you know, help us out?"
"Help us see if we can work past this."
"See if we can
come to some kind of agreement."
It's myself, the CEO of
the National Eating Disorders Association,
a campaigner from Change.org,
and two other
sort of eating disorders professionals.
And I went on to talk to them
about not just size-based discrimination,
why discrimination is bad.
I talked to them about why it was
actually just a stupid business decision.
When 60% of your consumer base
is wearing these plus sizes,
why aren't you embracing them?
[O'Keefe] And then the team comes in,
and they're smiling,
and they're bubbly, and they're white,
except for one person,
the Chief Diversity Officer.
Of course, he was a Black man.
[producer] "We go after the cool kids."
What did you think when Mike said that?
I have to respectfully decline on that.
You-- you would not be wrong
about how you think I felt about that.
I mean
So we're sitting at this board table,
this long boardroom table,
and I say, "Wait a minute.
Where's Mike? Where's MikeJeffries?"
Mike Jeffries did not show up
to the meeting.
And so I start taking out stacks
of our 2,000 pages of petitions.
He had a box of stuff.
Like, what's the box for?
And I plop them down
in front of each executive dramatically,
really dramatically.
And I said
"Each one of these piles of petitions
represents thousands of people
who are against
what you are doing as a brand."
Their Chief Diversity Officer
looked pretty offended.
He pulled out this little book.
He tried to explain to me how, actually,
they were an incredibly diverse company,
and all of the great things
that they had done for diversity
in their stores since he had come on.
And so he hands me this book,
and I sort of look at it,
and I throw it back at him.
"So this means nothing.
Look in this room."
"You're the only person of color here."
The higher up you go,
the older it gets and the whiter it gets.
These people were there very early on.
They're telling you who looks Abercrombie.
[Givhan] Yeah, you've got
the numbers at the store level,
but what about
at the vice president level,
and what about the people
who sit on your board of directors?
That becomes a question of the system,
and that becomes one
that's much more challenging.
It's not something that can be fixed
with a hiring binge, you know,
over the course of a year.
Upper management stayed white.
Most of the concerns in the decree
were from the store side.
[Corley] I mean, again,
they were 90% of your employee population.
So that was largely what we focused on.
You could call it a-- aglass ceiling
for all people of color.
You go to the office,
you see the new crop of regional managers,
was like, "Anybody? Anybody?"
"Okay, no."
I would be doing all the managers of color
that I worked with over the years
that I truly appreciated a disservice
if I didn't at least say that
it wasn't not racist.
[producer laughs] "It wasn't not racist"!
[both laugh]
I think the real evidence
of the leadership commitment came to light
when the consent decree ended.
They definitely improved
a great deal on the surface.
But they didn't get anywhere close
to what they sort of promised they would,
and none of this was binding,
and that's the-- that's the big problem.
[Spencer] When the consent decree ended,
you started to see
what you call "the fatigue."
Right? People were like [sighs]
Then you start experiencing
the resistance.
"Do we really have to do this?"
"Do we really need to allocate
this much money to that?" Right?
And so
were we really committed?
Or not?
I've been in Todd's seat.
That is an incredibly tough place to be
that we put marginalized people in
all the time.
And we say, "Okay, fix all the problems."
He was set up to fail,
and I think that's why he ultimately left.
Well, I've always been cautious
about how I talk about my experience
'cause when I left,
I mean, uh, the place doesn't look
like it did when I inherited it.
And if nothing else,
that, to me, is success.
I'm Samantha Elauf.
I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
So I was applying forAbercrombie & Fitch.
There was one question that they asked,
which is funny now,
but as a minority, it stood out to me,
and it was,
"What does diversity mean to you?"
So I was like,
"Okay, I'll fit in perfect."
At the interview,
I was also wearing jeans.
I think I was wearing a white basic,
and I was wearing a black scarf,
traditionally worn.
After the interview,
she told me she'd let me know
when to come in for orientation.
And I remember
my friend messaging me and being like,
"Did my manager call you yet?
When's your orientation?"
I was like, "She hasn't called me yet,"
and she's like, "I will ask her."
Whenever she asked the manager,
the manager was acting very strange.
After she interviewed me,
she called the district manager
because I was wearing a black headscarf.
At the time, they had a no-black policy.
He told her, "It doesn't matter
what color she wore. She can't work here."
I didn't know what to think.
That was the first time
anything had happened to me like that.
Soon after,
I was at my mom's friend's house,
and I was telling her what happened,
and she communicated with me
that I should get in touch with CAIR,
Council of American-Islamic Relations.
After getting into contact with them,
they made my story public.
They decided to file my case with the EOC
and see if they would take it on
as a lawsuit.
And that's when it got real, honestly.
My picture was everywhere,
and people were, like,
sending me messages.
People were tweeting the craziest things.
There was a point
where I stopped reading any comments.
For every positive,encouraging words,
I was getting so much hate.
I did get a couple death threats.
It was more, like,
hate towards my religion
and my beliefs to choose to cover.
But at the same time,
I even had Muslims, like, say,
"Why would you wanna
work for Abercrombie?"
I also had people say,
"Go back to your country,"
which is funny because I was born
and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Where am I supposed to go?
[Maheshwari] Abercrombie really
dug its heels inon this topic
and decided that they were right.
The Abercrombie lawyers
tried to compare this to, you know,
wearing a baseball hat
and saying, "Well, we wouldn't let
an employee wear a baseball cap."
But obviously,
there's a really big difference
between a hijab and a baseball cap.
I remember going to my phone,
and it was, like, blowing up.
The Supreme Court came out with a list
of the 100 cases they would hear,
and mine was one of them.
[Berfield] That was pretty significant.
First, that a company would allow a case
to go to the Supreme Court.
Very unusual.
Most companies would want to settle
because they would be scared
about the publicity, winning or losing.
Their argument was that if they hired me,
I would hurt their brand,
which in return would hurt their sales.
That was their argument,
that I would hurt their numbers
because I didn't fit their look policy.
[reporter 4] The Supreme Court
rejected that argument
by an eight to one vote.
[reporter 5] The justices say
Abercrombie & Fitch's actions
violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
[Sagafi] If Justice Scalia is moved
to say you're discriminating,
you're really doing something wrong.
I had eight that voted in my favor,
and I had one who didn't,
and the one judge who did not vote
in my favor was African American.
So, not saying
'cause you're African American,
you have to be on my side,
because we're different,
but I was just surprised.
To this day, when people are like,
"I saw you in my history book,"
or, "Oh, I was reading about you."
"Oh, I'm studying law.
We talked about you,"
I don't think I realized,
like, what all I did.
[O'Keefe] Abercrombie & Fitch went
all the way to the Supreme Court.
Discrimination was not just a blip.
It was not just one quote
from seven years.
It was their brand. It was their identity.
They rooted themselves in discrimination
at every single level.
Abercrombie, at that point,
was almost synonymous with scandal.
It wasn't really about the clothing
or that they had too much logo,
and logo was going out of style.
It was really like,
"Oh, this brand is becoming problematic,"
because, as analysts would say,
all of this is distracting from
the business of selling clothes.
The second quarter proved
to be more difficult than expected.
We are not satisfied with our results
and are working hard to improve the trend
for the third quarter and beyond.
[Berfield] Abercrombie was becoming
irrelevant under Mike Jeffries.
But Mike Jeffries
is making a lot of money.
Mike's been hounded
by these shareholder lawsuits saying,
"Why are you paying yourself
$40 million a year
when your stock is, you know,
in the, like, bottom 10%?"
I actually found a manual
for how to treat Mike Jeffries
on the company airplane.
[female voice] Aircraft standards.
A 47-page manual
for the Abercrombie & Fitch executive jet.
It's impossible to overstate
how particular
the instructions were.
[female voice]
If the passengers are eating cold food,
crew members are not to eat hot meals.
The kind of instructions
that you never really see
revealed to the public.
[female voice]
When Michael or a guest make a request,
respond by saying,
"No problem."
This should be used in place of phrases
like, "Sure," or, "Just a minute."
The shifts he made
for the company were great
in terms of a small period of time.
I don't think any of that was sustainable.
It didn't feel like
there was a long-term strategy there.
It felt like it was, "Let's grow it
as big as it can possibly get
and see what happens."
You don't want your brand
to run white-hot,
because white-hot brands always burn out.
[reporter 8] Abercrombie,
it's in dire straits.
It's just that CEO Mike Jeffries
doesn't seem to know it.
[Rupp] In the 2000s, business started
to really change for Abercrombie,
and I think the customer began to change.
[Maheshwari] It was losing
its luster with teens.
[Sanchez] It wasn't cool.
You were wearingAbercrombie & Fitch,
it was like a construction outfit.
When you're in construction,
you put on your boots to go to work,
and you get home,
those boots and all that stuff comes out.
You go to the shower.
You're wearin' somethin' else
to do whatever you're gonna do after that.
That wasour Abercrombie & Fitch clothing.
At some point, those kids that learned
it wasn't cool to be bullied grew up
and decided they didn't wanna spend money
at a place that made them feel bad.
And so Abercrombie & Fitch, like
Some of that aura went away
precisely because exclusion
was the root of their success.
And exclusion itself
stopped being quite so cool.
We've got breaking news
on the retail front.
Abercrombie & Fitch,
the CEO is stepping down.
He literally was on the phone
with executives on Sunday, December 7th,
and Monday, December 8th,
did not show up for work.
Never showed up again,
and many people
have never seen him since then.
[Spencer] I think people thought
that Mike was a permanent fixture,
and you sit there and you think,
"How long will there be tolerance
for this sort of behavior,
this type of comment,
this type of leadership?"
So you think he would never go away.
So I remember thinking when he finally--
[laughs] I was like, "Wow!"
Like, "They finally got rid of him."
At some point,
you know, all things come to an end.
[Tkacik] Les Wexner
has been embroiled in scandals.
Just heading to a meeting. Thank you.
[reporter 6] Les Wexner announced
he was stepping down as CEO of L Brands.
[reporter 7] He remains under scrutiny
for his close ties to Jeffrey Epstein,
the convicted sex offender
and disgraced financier.
[Tkacik] He not only signed over
his entire fortune to Jeffrey Epstein,
he let Jeffrey represent himself
as a Victoria's Secret model scout.
One of the biggest reasons
Jeffrey Epstein was able
to surround himself constantly
with really hot young women,
they thought that he could,
you know, make or break them.
Bombshell expos in The New York Times.
Bruce Weber guilty of years
of sexual misconduct and abuse.
[Tkacik] Bruce Weber, of course,
would be sued by legions of models.
Bruce told me I was tense
and did some breathing exercises with me.
At the time, I froze.
I did not know how to respond.
The entire experience
was terrifying and humiliating.
Changes tend to happen when, you know,
those who raise concerns can point out
all the ways in which a company
is leaving money on a table
by its current actions.
And then changes happen.
Repositioning a brand and moving
a brand forward is not always easy.
So, candidly, we've had
a few starts and stops on our journey.
We are no longer the company
that we used to be.
That we could wipe clean
our social channels,
wipe clean the history.
[Lindsey] Having a broad range
of people represented
and feel included in your brand
is smart business.
There is a smart business
of being discriminatory
and being exclusionary,
because there are always gonna be people
who want to see themselves
as the cool kids.
But it's fascinating to see
how many brands now
are doubling down on the cool kids
being anybody and everybody.
And they've gone the other direction
with respect to the diversity of models.
Abercrombie & Fitch has announced plans
to no longer hire employees
based on attractiveness,
which should make
the first new guy they hire feel great.
[audience laughter]
It's just a shame
that we couldn't have gone to that sooner.
Abercrombie & Fitch is illustrative
more so than it is exceptional.
[Rupp] They didn't invent evil.
They didn't invent class.
They just packaged it.
If anything, it represents
the worst parts of American history
in terms of the cost,
the hiring practices, the images.
It's everything we want America not to be.
[Rupp] We all like to think
we have grown beyond that,
that we're all a little bit better.
I don't know what it says about us
that it was so popular for so long.
that we really wanted to be liked.
We were kind of,
you know, blinded by our own light.
[laughs] You know, we were like,
"We're so great. We're so successful."
But, like, social media wasn't a thing.
There were probably
just as many people as there are now
who hated what we were doing,
who were completely offended,
who didn't feel included,
who didn't feel represented.
But they didn't have the platform
to be able to voice it,
and now they do, so maybe
Yeah, maybe it's not, like,
this massive societal new awareness.
It's just now we're hearing everyone,
and we have to pay attention.
[Yu] I think there's a limitation
to where brands can really walk the walk.
When it really comes down to it,
you're trying to sell something, right?
Can you really sell diversity inclusion
when really what you're trying to sell
is a V-neck, you know?
[Ocampo] My hope is that companies realize
that they play
a pivotal rolein shaping culture,
shaping conversations,
shaping which people
in this society are valued.
The story of Abercrombie
is essentially an incredible indictment
of where our culture was
oh, just ten years ago.
It was a culture
that, um, enthusiastically embraced
a nearly all sort of WASPy vision
of the world.
It was a culture that defined beauty
as thin and white and young,
and it was a culture
that was very happy to exclude people.
[producer] And so have we solved that now?
Can't you see our generation
Goin' down the tubes?
The more we keep lookin' back
We can only lose
Remember when we were
Kids hangin' out?
Feelin' all right
Thinkin' we're on top?
Well, now the whole damn generation's
Goin' down the tubes
Say goodbye to your generation
I'm left wantin' more
Than what we could do
Say goodbye to your generation
Yeah, that's right, I'm talking to you
Say goodbye to your generation
Say goodbye to your generation
Say goodbye to your generation
-Say goodbye to your generation
-It's goin' down the tubes
-Say goodbye to your generation
-It's goin' down the tubes
-Say goodbye to your generation
-It's goin' down the tubes
-Say goodbye to your generation
-It's goin' down the tubes
Say goodbye to your generation
Say goodbye to your generation
Say goodbye to your generation
Say goodbye to your generation