Abercrombie & Fitch Sells Anti-Bullying Ts, Still Has Controversial 'Look Policy'

The clothing retailer is trading 'So I Make You Look Fat' T-shirts for ones with empowering messages, but will customers buy the switch?

(Photo: Abercrombie & Fitch/Facebook)

Oct 9, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

The seller of shirts with slogans such as “The Island of Lesbos Every Man’s Dream” and “Do I Make You Look Fat?”—the same retailer that calls its sales associates “models” and has a “look policy”—is now championing the anti-bullying cause. Bro-friendly clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch has debuted the “Are You an Ally?” line of T-shirts.

The company partnered with the nonprofit No Bully on the effort. According to the organization's website, it “helps schools nationwide implement a systematic anti-bullying program for stopping student bullying, harassment and intimidation.” Abercrombie is even donating all proceeds, up to $150,000, from the sale of the shirts to No Bully.

The seven Ts in the line (two shirts for men, two for women, and four for kids) feature such slogans as “Real Is the New Black” and “Be Yourself”—which is ironic considering that a case concerning Abercrombie’s allegedly discriminatory employee guidelines and hiring process is soon to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the heart of the case is the company's controversial and mysterious "look policy." The company hasn’t publicly released the most recent version, but a leak of the policy to BuzzFeed last fall revealed that it’s stringent: no visible tattoos, no facial hair, no black clothing, and no nail polish “other than a natural color" are just a few of the rules. Even hairstyles and hair color are strictly regulated.

The lawsuit, which is being brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claims that the retailer discriminated against a Muslim woman named Samantha Elauf because she wore a hijab. To wear the headscarf, Elauf would have required a religious exemption from the company’s look policy.

In 2010, a woman named Hani Khan and the EEOC sued the company after Khan was fired from a Hollister store—Hollister is Abercrombie's teen-oriented brand—in San Mateo, Calif. She had refused to take off her hijab at work to comply with the look policy. In 2013 Abercrombie was found liable for religious discrimination.

Those shirtless guys standing at the store entrances are A-OK. Hijabs? Not so much.

Muslims aren’t the only people the company has dissed over the years. In 2006, Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries explained why the retailer didn’t make clothing larger than a size 10 for women and a size 34 for men.

"We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive, all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely," said Jeffries.

The remarks, which blew up on social media in 2013, along with the lawsuits, resulted in a significant backlash against the retailer. Abercrombie has since caved—now it makes larger sizes and has also ditched clothing bearing its logos.

There’s no way to tell if the new anti-bullying campaign is a legit example of a company turning over a new leaf or if it’s just a way for Abercrombie to draw in more customers and beef up its financial bottom line. After all, the look policy is still in full effect. But a new, more welcoming, nondiscriminatory Abercrombie & Fitch would be appreciated. We don’t need more of the brand’s “Blonds Are Adored Brunettes Are Ignored” Ts in the world.