Abercrombie & Fitch is a clothing line that markets itself primarily to college students between the ages of 18 and 25. It’s known more for its sexually explicit marketing campaigns than the quality of its cheaply-hewn garments. Regardless, for many young adults, sporting A&F apparel is a must, as it represents a sort of status symbol.
Yet, when you purchase Abercrombie clothes – just like when you buy Starbucks coffee – you’re handing your money over to a company that propagates a morally bankrupt value system. To get a feel for what kind of values the company stands for, take a look at these outlandish statements made by Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries over the past several years:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids…we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.”
“Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either”
“I don’t want our core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing our clothing.”
“We hire good-looking people in our stores…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.”
There are countless other remarks Jeffries has put forth over the past couple years, but I don’t want to go into them. The aforementioned comments say everything you need to know about how this man thinks.
While Jeffries’ opinions will offend most people, we should remember that we live in a society with an economic system that allows us to freely choose whether or not we want to support someone like Jeffries. As true as that may be, he does deserve criticism. If not for his refusal to make clothes for large-sized women, then for the disturbing fact that Abercrombie would rather burn its excess and damaged clothing than donate them to places like Salvation Army and Goodwill.
That deeply offensive policy set off a firestorm across the blogosphere last week. People of all political ideologies were outraged after learning Abercrombie was intentionally refusing to donate its unsold and defective clothing to second hand outlets. But one California-based filmmaker and writer was so upset that a simple blog post wasn’t going to be enough. His plan? To “make Abercrombie & Fitch the world’s number one brand of homeless apparel.”
Greg Karber, an activist living in Los Angeles, was so disturbed by Abercrombie’s policy that he released a two-and-a-half minute video on YouTube. In it, Karber is seen scouring a Los Angeles Goodwill store for Abercrombie clothes. After unsuccessfully finding any, he begins to “worry that Abercrombie was sending representatives to thrift shops to buy up all the clothes.” Eventually, he comes across some Abercrombie shirts and pants and heads off to downtown Los Angeles to “do some charity.” Karber proceeds to hand out his Abercrombie threads to the homeless people he encounters. Upon completing his “expedition,” Karber says that what he did was “a huge success.” At the end of the video, he urges viewers to gather up their own Abercrombie clothes and give them away to the homeless. You can watch the video in its entirety by clicking here, but fair warning, some portions of it, especially the language used around the 1:10 mark, may be offensive to some.
Reaction to Karber’s “charity” work has been understandably mixed. Some say he is doing a noble thing. Others think he is treating homeless people like disposable objects. I agree with both sides to an extent, but want to flesh out what I think is really going on here.
First, we have to admit that what Karber did is pretty innovative. In some ways, he is turning the other cheek. Abercrombie is not shy about its elitist attitudes. Karber’s decision to give away Abercrombie attire to homeless people – something the company’s CEO does not want to happen – shines light on just how upside down Abercrombie’s values really are.
However, we must also understand that even though Karber is doing the right thing by clothing the homeless, he is doing it for the wrong reason. The corporal works of mercy may not specify which brand of clothing we should clothe the naked in, but that doesn’t mean we should just dump Abercrombie clothes on them so we can make a political statement. Moreover, what Karber is doing could hardly be considered “charity.” What Karber is doing is ostentatious and goes against what is said in Matthew 6: 1-4, which says “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…when you give alms, do not blow your trumpet before you… to win the praise of others.”
I think the correct way to understand Karber’s protestations lies somewhere in-between these two perspectives. Abercrombie is, as Karber points out in his video, a “terrible company.” What they stand for and the lifestyle they promote runs counter to Catholic teaching. Karber is rightly concerned about their egregious policies towards those who are overweight and financially insecure. Furthermore, Karber is simply reacting to something he thinks is morally abhorrent. Granted, he might not be giving away clothes because the Bible tells him to, and his definition of “charity” is problematic, but he is exposing a policy that is an affront to human dignity. Shouldn’t he be applauded for that? Finally, even though he might not be doing the right thing for the right reason – he is, more or less, engaging in faux charity in order to spite Abercrombie’s CEO – Karber’s actions may cause people to do the right thing for the right reason later on.
Be that as it may, some people will still find his actions offensive. I can see why, and I can’t say I entirely disagree with them, but we live in a world so wrapped up in materialism and superficiality that concern for those who are less fortunate is increasingly becoming an afterthought. If anything, Karber’s video should force us to take stock of our own lives and make sure we are not only fulfilling our obligation to clothe the naked and live out the corporal works of mercy, but that we are doing the right things for the right reasons.