News Column

Abercrombie & Fitch Told Size Matters

May 23, 2013

A summit of sorts between Abercrombie & Fitch officials and individuals and groups offended by its CEO's recently resurrected comments on customer size produced promises of action supporting teen self-esteem but no concrete plans.

However, both sides sounded encouraged.

Abercrombie officials invited the activists to the teen retailer's headquarters after online anger grew over comments that CEO Michael S. Jeffries made in 2006 that resurfaced. He was addressing why the company does not make women's clothing in any size above "large," noting the exclusive nature of its offerings.

While Abercrombie officials told the activists "they couldn't revamp their company overnight, they would let us know soon which steps they were willing to take," said Darryl Roberts, director of the America the Beautiful series of documentaries about teens' self image.

"The meeting went well. They appeared very receptive to suggestions that we had that would start the process of rebuilding their relationship with teens," Roberts said.

The company issued a statement yesterday saying, in part: "We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion.

"We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values."

After the meeting was arranged, a planned protest at Abercrombie headquarters was canceled.

During Tuesday's two-hour meeting, a group of critics representing a variety of youth-focused groups said they made a number of suggestions, including that Abercrombie reconsider its position on size limitations; expand its clothing line to be more inclusive of teen body types; reduce the sexual flavor in its ads and expand its choice of models; consider diversity training for employees; and support teen education programs and become a corporate leader on anti-bullying and diversity.

"We had a productive meeting," said teen activist Cali Linstrom. "We look forward to working with the company on these issues in the near future."

Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, was also at the meeting and said, "Our concerns were heard."

"We are looking forward to the next steps as this company truly has an opportunity to help change our culture," Grefe said. "I also believe they are sincere in their intent to move forward with positive next steps for our kids. Time will tell, but if so, we would be proud to be part of that movement."

Meanwhile, in Denver, a federal judge is contemplating an injunction against Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and J.M. Hollister LLC after ruling earlier that nearly 250 of their clothing stores are unfriendly to the disabled.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several Colorado customers who said they had trouble getting into stores and that the sales countertops are too high.

The companies said earlier they complied with all construction standards in effect at the time the stores were built.

Attorneys for the companies did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Judge Wiley Daniel agreed in March with the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition that the retailers limited access for customers in wheelchairs. The only remedy under the Americans with Disabilities Act is an injunction ordering the problems to be fixed, though individuals couldn't be compensated, he said.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this story.

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