Girls with Brains Call for Boycott of A&F

Discussion
Nov 04, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


T-shirts with sayings such as, “Who needs a brain when you have these?,” has a group of high school girls calling for a boycott of Abercrombie & Fitch.


The teenagers calling themselves the Allegheny County (Pa.) Girls have gotten national press coverage, including a spot on the Today Show earlier in the week.


“We’re telling [girls] to think about the fact that they’re being degraded,” Emma Blackman-Mathis, a 16-year-old who is the co-chairperson of the group, told RedEye. “We’re all going to come together in this one effort to fight this message that we’re getting from pop culture.”


So, what does A&F have to say about its latest controversy?


“Our clothing appeals to a wide variety of customers. These particular t-shirts have been very popular among adult women to whom they are marketed,” a company spokesman said in a statement.


David Krafft, senior vice president of Graziano, Krafft and Zale Advertising, doesn’t believe the Allegheny County Girls will be successful in getting others to join in their boycott.


“You figure they’re appealing to a younger audience demographic and (young people) are going to want to go for brands that are more cutting edge, or viewed as more cutting edge,” he said. “So it’s just going to be a benefit anyway to Abercrombie & Fitch.”


If anything, the girls appearance on the Today Show helped promote A&F, he added.


This is not the first time A&F has become embroiled in a controversy. The chain has come under criticism for its use of nudity in its catalogs and visual merchandising to promote its image.


Last year, it sold t-shirts with an L for loser next to a gymnast performing on the rings. The t-shirts seemed to be a direct slap at the U.S. Olympic gymnast team for failing to win a gold medal. USA Gymnastics called for a boycott of A&F over the merchandise. The chain later pulled the offending t-shirts.


Moderator’s Comment: Do you think the adult female demographic that Abercrombie & Fitch is targeting is more
or less likely to shop at the retailer as a result of this current controversy? Is all publicity good publicity as far as Abercrombie & Fitch is concerned? Should it pull
the t-shirts from its racks?

George Anderson – Moderator

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22 Comments on "Girls with Brains Call for Boycott of A&F"


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Greg Coghill
Guest
Greg Coghill
15 years 3 months ago

Who needs an ad budget when you have publicity like this?

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 3 months ago

My answer depends on who we think their targeted customer is. I believe it’s a younger female, not what I would call “adult” female, although technically many of them are. A few of the t-shirts go too far, and I believe they will wind up discontinued as a result of slower sales. Some of the messages are just ironic, which their target gets, but many “adults” don’t. Abercrombie has successfully used PR to their advantage, and ultimately, this will work for them as well.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Abercrombie should pull the offending t-shirts and apologize for the error ASAP. A sexy image is a great image. Apologizing for being sexy would be a foolish error. Insulting people isn’t usually considered sexy. Nothing I saw in the (late lamented) Abercrombie magazine seemed insulting. To some people, anything that is erotic is insulting. The t-shirts cross the line. 99% of the other Abercrombie positioning doesn’t.

Peter Fader
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

This is a nice example of “there’s no such thing as bad PR…” A&F must be very happy with the attention.

Mark Hunter
Guest
Mark Hunter
15 years 3 months ago

Put all the rhetoric about marketing aside and let’s talk about it from the perspective of a parent. I have two teen-agers, the issues they deal with, the pressures they face in school are huge. Thanks to the desire to make a buck too many people and companies are willing to market stuff like this. Would I want my daughter wearing a t-shirt like this? Absolutely not, and I’m thankful my daughter has enough brains to not wear a shirt like it. And as for my teenage son, I don’t need for him to see girls wearing a shirt that says something like that. Teenage boys/men have enough issues already, we don’t need to fuel the fire even more.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I agree with Mark. The women I know would smack you up the side of the head if you bought them one of those shirts. And then, when you got up, they’d hit you again.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
15 years 3 months ago

You’d think A&F would learn their lesson. They got blasted a few years ago for a line of t-shirts grossly offensive to Asian Americans. One tee said “Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make It White.” Another said, “Abercrombie & Fitch Buddha Bash – Get Your Buddha on the Floor.”

The company said they thought Asian Americans would appreciate the humor. They didn’t, and the company later apologized.

It’s amazing that so many companies, politicians and celebrities continue to make sexist, racist or homophobic gaffes when the stakes are so high. As funny as you think you’re being, as much as you think that people are too uptight and need to loosen up, why anyone would want to risk alienating an entire demographic group for a cheap laugh and some PR is beyond me.

Greg Gilkerson
Guest
Greg Gilkerson
15 years 3 months ago

I admire the girls for taking a stand. We have reached a point in our culture where we tend to vilify people that try and stand for something. I am encouraged that we have young people trying to raise the bar.

Nothing good can come from the t-shirts and you can certainly see where they might cause harm. I hope A&F sees that in their sales and they make different decisions going forward.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Has anyone considered that these t-shirt slogans are intentionally ironic? It’s just possible that some of the “who needs brains…” wearers are pulling a double reverse on us.

The “girl-cotters” are showing commendable social conscience, but they are also so immersed in their protest that they miss the satire and play right into the hands of AF’s clever marketers.

Cynthia McFall
Guest
Cynthia McFall
15 years 3 months ago

The t-shirts are meant to be humorous. People these days take everything out of proportion. These girls think they are doing something meaningful, but the reality is they are simply whining over a fabric they don’t appreciate when they could spend their time with real issues like teen smoking and drinking.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

I have to agree with Mr. Fader…. Abercrombie courts publicity of any kind and this is the latest example. I’ll add that my not-so-conservative self was slightly alarmed at the sayings on some of the buttery ringer tees in Target’s men’s department throughout the summer. Hey, they’re called “attitude” T’s for a reason, I guess!

Giacinta Shidler
Guest
Giacinta Shidler
15 years 3 months ago

I’ll say one thing for A&F, judging from the numerous apologies they’ve been forced to make over the years, they aren’t afraid of pushing the envelope. I suppose it works for their core market or they wouldn’t be so successful. I personally find this t-shirt tasteless, but as a retailer they exist to sell product. It’s not their responsibility to consider larger social implications or accommodate one group’s sensibilities. I do feel that young girls are vulnerable to reading the message the wrong way and they are already prone to low self esteem and depression. Parents, educators and mentors should step in to make sure these girls respect themselves.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Can’t help chiming in again. I do understand that there can be a double meaning in some of these things, and that this meaning may be really hip among the in-crowd. After all, in my day, I spent considerable time analyzing lyrics of Beatles, Doors and Dylan, and chuckled over misreads by “old people.” But the fact is that an unfortunate mainstream element here is going to see some of these shirts and take them at face value, perhaps as something that merely strengthens their bigotry, or perhaps as a welcoming invitation for sex with a cute teenager. Sorry, folks, it’s a reality. Who needs it? I’m not saying ban them, because I still feel strongly about free speech. I’m not even saying boycott the store; I just wouldn’t buy them, and would discourage people from doing so. Yes, I have a daughter. And I suggest that anybody wanting a clearer understanding of where I’m coming from, would do well to read “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 3 months ago
I guess I’m in the “if you don’t like it don’t buy it” camp on this one. Yes the saying is demeaning. Or satirical. Or empowering. I guess it depends on which post-feminist philosophy you subscribe to. But it (and the others mentioned) are offensive, not dangerous. They don’t say “Have You Beaten a [fill in the minority] Today?” or something that could be considered incitement. David Morse asks why anyone would risk offending an entire demographic group. The key word is “risk.” If you want to be edgy, you put stuff out there and sometimes you go too far. The market will tell you when you do, and as several people have mentioned, A&F has pulled a t-shirt or two. But if you’ve got a bunch of product marketers sitting around in a room coming up with these sayings and every time someone says “that might offend someone” they kill the idea, then just give up the whole idea. I admire the Alleghany County Girls, they are doing what you do in a semi-free… Read more »
Dian Tucker
Guest
Dian Tucker
15 years 3 months ago

Foolish, foolish, foolish. Abercrombie is already overpriced for the average American household. Now you’ve given Mom a reason to say “no” to shopping there. My local high school would round up any child with a sexually explicit shirt, and ask them to change it or go home.

erin enhelder
Guest
erin enhelder
15 years 3 months ago

Every female employee currently employed by A&F should be forced to wear the “Who needs brains…?” t-shirt to work.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

No. As Amarosa says, the biggest deals are done in the highest heels. Assets are assets whether they be physical attributes or mental intelligence. These are not mutually exclusive and often the most successful women know how to use both at the same time.

Gwen Kelly
Guest
Gwen Kelly
15 years 3 months ago

The folks at Abercrombie knew exactly what they were doing with these t-shirts; unfortunately this is not an accident nor is it a gaffe. Another challenging commentary on the lengths that will be taken to get a sale. However, on a lighter note, thanks for the smile today Mr. Thayer. What you described is exactly what would happen if such an item came into my household!

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 3 months ago
How’s A&F doing these days, anyway? As a father of a teenager, I don’t see anyone wearing their things these days except for younger teens that are wearing them as hand-me-downs. It’s like well, they were cool once, right? If all you get is negative publicity, sooner or later, it turns into a negative. Sure, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. But, at some point it is heartening to see young women stand up for themselves in a positive way instead of a negative way. These appear to be young women that we should be proud of. I’d like to do some more learning about how A&F is really doing. For that, I’ll admit my ignorance. However, lately, the busy spot seems to be JC Penny. For the life of me, I haven’t figured out why. That too deserves another look. Off to the mall this weekend. I can hear it now – ‘Dad, can I go?’ ‘How about I drive?’ As if the shopping thing was going to be fun; now it… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 3 months ago

As head bartender in a very popular dance bar back in the 70s (yes, we mainlined disco), I judged a nightly t-shirt contest (clever, not wet). I won about half the time because the patrons expected me to. My favorite (that I can talk about in this space) was one that said “We Smoke Anything” on the front, with an ad for a Kansas City barbecue joint on the back.

But I digress from my digression. That was thirty years ago, back when “I’m With Stupid” t-shirts were popular. The point is, what’s changed? A&F’s controversial t-shirt – on the right TWA Stewardess Trainee (to whom our bar catered) – would have won any night of the week.

Bottom-line, it’s just a shirt. People can choose to purchase and wear it or not. And, they can choose to be offended by it – or not. How does PETA feel about Polo-brand shirts with logos depicting horses being subjugated by insensitive humans?

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

Our family had a lot of business discussion on this topic this weekend. We concluded that women who complain about A&F’s tactics most likely would never be an A&F shopper anyway. When people criticize others, it is usually a reflection on themselves. Down deep, those who complain would probably kill in order to look good in one of those shirts. We all want what we don’t have. The bottom line is that women are sex objects and men are success objects. Both sexes use this in order to achieve their goals. But we all know that brains and looks are not mutually exclusive and, when combined, are a powerful force.

George Anderson
Guest
15 years 3 months ago

A&F has agreed to stop selling the offendng t-shirts. The company’s statement can be found on the A&F site (click here).

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