Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Let's Play Dress Up: Homelessness and Abercrombie

This wasn't very well thought out.

As a protest against the public comments of Abercrombie and Fitch CEO, someone got the bright idea to play dress up with homeless people. The notion is to embarrass Mike Jeffries by changing the brand: play dress up with homeless people by putting them in A&F skinny jeans and poor quality t-shrits.

It's a totally feel good protest, right? Donate to those who have less. Care for people shivering on the streets. Everyone can feel good. The big bad CEO is punished, homeless people have clothes, and we can all feel morally superior.

Let's be honest. This isn't what is really is going on in the video. We're using homeless people as a foil to bash, demean, and embarrass a company into better behavior. Were using the image of people many consider undesirable (homeless) in a brand's clothing to protest a company that feels certain types of women are undesirable (women over size 10).  

How is this a good idea? How can this possibly be anything other than demeaning toward homeless people? The last line of the YouTube clip sums it up well:

Together, we can make Abercrombie and Fitch the world's number one brand of homeless apparel. 

What does that even mean?

Homeless people. Those people who annoy you by asking for money. The ones you maybe step away from because you are afraid they might smell. The ones you probably walk past without even knowing. You know the sort--the ones that are invisible throw-away people to you. 

Those people.

Let's play dress up with them. Let's put the dirty disgusting homeless people in the "fancy" clothes from A&F so we can embarrass the shit out of Mike Jeffries. Let's make his brand synonymous with unwanted people--the dirty disgusting homeless people.

We'll bring down the value of the brand by displaying undesirable people in A&F branded clothing. That will teach them a lesson for being demeaning toward women who are above a certain clothing size.

No. This wasn't well thought out at all.

Homeless people aren't our playthings to play dress up with. They aren't an easily acquired prop to use for political gain. The campaign is neither cute or clever. It's a cruel abuse of people with very little power in this world. 

The homeless people you walk by deserve a lot more than a quick game of dress up with you.


  1. Jason I appreciate your thoughts and I too had a queasy reaction the first time I saw the video related to the dynamic of homeless people being the lowliest members of our society and what better way to injure A&F's image than to put their clothes on them.
    However, after watching it the next day for the second time, I get a different impression. The author of the video is very clear in the beginning that A&F has a policy of burning their mis-shapen factory rejects (that most retailers still sell to consumers at a discount or outlet) instead of donating them to homeless programs or clothes closets because they don't want their beloved A&F branded clothing on poor or homless people. He also encourages people to find A&F clothing and donate it to homeless shelters, as opposed to his actions in the clip of handing them out in skid row in person. Donating the clothes to shelters provides for a more systematic and appropriate use of the clothes vs handing them out to random people on the street.
    On my second look at the video, I noticed the overall of message of: A&F sucks, they don't want homeless or any other uncool people (any woman > size 10 and men > size 36) wearing their clothes, their company policy supports this by the destruction of their clothes vs donating them to people who need clothes and therefore, we can help homeless programs and clothes closets at the same time while working against A&F's disgusting branding campaigns.
    As a former social worker, I am constantly shocked at the way media outlets portray the most vulnerable in our society and how these portrayals feed stereotypes and contributes to the continued problem. I also have a proverbial dog in this fight since I am overweight and was never a "cool kid" during grade school.
    While this campaign could easily skirt the line into using homeless people as props with the implication of "oh, let's find the nastiest people in our society and put A&F clothes on them". That would seem to go against the entire notion of the campaign that calls out A&F on their shallow, exclusionary policies that feed all other kinds of social and interpersonal problems/conflicts.
    While this campaign will not end the problem of homelessness, people giving clothes to shelters is generally never a bad thing, may get some people to take another look at the issues related to homelessness and if it hurts A&F's precious image at the same time, that is an added bonus in my book!

    1. Giving clothes, money, resources, food, jobs, and houses to people who are homeless is not a bad idea. That's not the problem with this video.

      Karber, with or without intention, put homeless people up into the public eye as a group of dirty, despised, and unwanted people. He starts with the premise that they are unwanted people, so it would embarrass a corporate CEO who doesn't what another group of people he sees as unwanted to see homeless people in his clothes.

      The central message is to bring down a brand by having unwanted people wear the clothes rather than people who society deems as desirable (young, fit, and beautiful).

      This doesn't help the lives of homeless people -- it further objectifies them, it further demonizes them, and it further forces them into the role of the despised other.

      "Together we can make A&F the world's number one brand of homeless apparel."

      That's beyond tone deaf. What could that possibly mean other than we'll stick it to the company by making unwanted people wear their clothes?

      I cannot endorse a campaign that does that to people. We can do better. Karber can do better.

  2. Thank you for articulating so well my uneasiness about this campaign. It holds a disadvantaged population up for ridicule. I doubt that's what the originators intended, but that is the result nonetheless.

    1. No, I don't think the creator of the campaign was thinking that. I think he wanted to do some good for the world. This is a perfect example of how difficult it is for each of us to be aware of all the implicit believes and stereotypes we have about people come into play in our life.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. I'm so appreciative of this post. When I first heard of this effort, it felt exploitative to me, but I thought I must be missing something, since ”everyone” was so gung-ho about it. I don't have an answer as to an alternative (other than just not buying the brand), and I can't argue with donating clothing of any kind to those in need, but correlating the homeless with embarrassing a company just feels wrong. It's like saying, McDonalds is bad for you, so feed it to homeless people until they make a more nutritious product for for the rest of us.

    1. Thanks for stopping in and commenting. I couldn't agree more.

  4. Mr Wendal.. Jennifer Lopez was looking good as a 'Fly Girl' in that video.

    1. Good eye! Was wondering who might notice. Remember, she is still Jenny from the block.