On December 9th, Mike Jeffries stepped down as CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch after posting nearly three consecutive years of losses and seeing his yearly pay drop from nearly $50 million in 2011 to just over $2 million this past year.
Jeffries has been one of the most controversial figures in the world of retail, consistently referred to as “The Worst CEO” of the week, year, millennium, etc.
In 1988, The Limited, owner of several independent clothing stores, specifically, Abercrombie and Fitch, hired Jeffries to reinvigorate the brand as they were only months away from declaring bankruptcy.
If you attend high school between the years 1998-2010, you may recognize Abercrombie and Fitch as the store all the stuck up kids bought their clothes from, but you secretly wanted to get your hands on one of those colorful polos. Abercrombie is known for having especially attractive employees, while also pumping a Dachau amount of gasses into their stores, the gas of course being fumes from their trademark cologne.
You see, in 1892 when Abercrombie and Fitch was founded, the company was set up to be an outdoor enthusiast’s clothier. They sold tents, boots, warm jackets, and pants which obliterated mosquitoes and snakes, probably. In fact, Teddy Roosevelt was known to be one of Abercrombie’s most notorious clients back in the day. If Teddy Roosevelt, the man known for winning the Spanish-American War by single-handedly hate killing three trillion Spaniards with his bare hands on San Juan Hill and taking a bullet during a presidential address and then finishing the speech before seeking medical attention knew that in 100 years teenage boys in ripped skinny jeans and a t-shirt that declares “fashion diva” were donning the same label as him he would rise from his grave and murder every last one of us. Horribly.
Anyway, the present-day, upscale apparel retailer you know and love is that way because of Mike Jeffries. In the 90’s, Jeffries quickly realized that hyper-sexualization of young folks was a swell way to turn a profit, so he opted to turn A&F around, eloquently stating he wanted the company to “sizzle with sex.” That phrase becomes way grosser when you realize it’s this guy saying it:
Despite initially turning the company into a powerhouse amongst teen and young adult retailers, Jeffries faced criticism almost from the beginning. Most notably, Jeffries employs a strict “look policy” for his stores. If you found it to be a tremendous coincidence that all employees in Abercrombie stores look like Zac Efron clones photoshopped on top of a pile of abs, don’t worry, it’s not. You see, A&F has a policy where all employees must pass a “look test” before being hired. In Jeffries’ own words, “we make clothes for young, good-looking people, so he have to hire good-looking people to get other cool, good-looking people into our stores.” That Derek Zoolander-esque quote is verbatim, by the way. You might recognize discriminating someone based on their looks as both “sexual harassment” and “extremely unethical”, to which Jeffries typically enforces a “it’s my store and if I only want cool people then that’s what I want” line of reasoning.
A&F, despite Jeffries’ instance on serving “cool” people, seem pretty set on only serving cool, upper-middle class white males, which you may recognize as being the single most spoiled, well-off demographic on the planet. On numerous occasions Jeffries has marketed racist, sexist, bigoted, and mildly hilarious apparel to anyone dumb enough to laugh. For example:
Get it? Because Asian people are almost always monks or rice farmers. Geopolitical inaccuracies aside, A&F is not one to forget the ladies, with shirts such as this:
“Who needs brains when you have these?” states the shirt I suspect was designed by Don Imus. In addition to this shirt implying women need no intelligence of their own, it also sets kind of an unrealistic goal. The shirt displayed appears to be about a small, maybe even an extra small. What cup size does Jeffries think a 16 year-old, size 0 girl has? At an age when many girls can’t even walk into Victoria’s Secret without breaking down into self-loathing tears, A&F is giving them a constant reminder of their own insecurities. Thanks Mike Jeffries for employing a classic Southern frat boy “no fat chicks” mentality when branding your clothing. Spot on work.
Abercrombie and Fitch, years ago, adopted a tagline which simply states, “Casual Luxury”, implying their products are superior to what you may find at Wal-Mart. I will admit, in my later high school and early college years I was guilty of wearing Abercrombie clothing. I can say with certainty there is some truth to this claim; their products are finely made, don’t break down easily, and are very comfortable. However, as an adult with my own bills, I can say with even more certainty forcing my loving parents to pay $40 for a shirt with a moose on it was a little excessive. I’m getting off track. Oh, yeah, “Casual Luxury”. Jeffries employed this slogan, presumably, as a way to allow himself to sleep at night. His creative tagline implied quality, which in turn allowed the consumers to be more comfortable forking over $75 for a pair of cargo shorts.
In 2009, the United States suffered a bit of an “economic situation.” Many retailers took this crisis to heart, realizing consumer spending is pretty much the only way they can stay in business. A&F was not one. Jeffries, against the advice of his advisors, opted to keep prices the same. Unsurprisingly, A&F began posting losses, although Jeffries took home nearly $70 million that year.
Mercifully, Jeffries put an end to his fully priced items, allowing for sales, clearances, and overall reduction of cost. This helped a bit, but over the years of questionable hiring practices, shady financial dealings, and employing a staff of man-servants to tend both his mansion and private jet, the damage had been done to Jeffries and Abercrombie. The company went on to post 11 straight quarters of losses, ending this quarter, leading to Jeffries’ resignation.
If there’s any lesson to be learned from Jeffries’ ordeal, its to try to act like an actual human being. For the entirely of his tenure as CEO of Abercrombie, Jeffries was basically a real-life MAD TV sketch portraying the sleazy business morals of a corrupt retail officer. Jeffries offended a lot of nice people, hurt a lot of feelings, and probably even made some folks cry.
I think the most important piece of advice to keep in mind is this: If you want to own a business that caters to only “cool, good-looking” people, that’s fine. But when you look like this:
Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your stance on who and who isn’t physically attractive.