The internet was set aflame this week by the resurfacing of some statements by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries.

If you haven’t heard yet, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

Abercrombie & Fitch will never carry plus sizes because their clothes are for “cool, good-looking people.”

They will also only hire people who fit this mold. (His exact words on this are “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”)

Does this make me angry? Sure.

I’m always upset when people in positions of power make decisions about what is appropriate in body size and shape, because we’ve all got a tough road and no one needs it rubbed in their face that they don’t meet Hollywood standards for good looks. (And I have enough trouble finding jeans that fit my thighs thankyouverymuch).

But then, I don’t shop at Abercrombie & Fitch anyway. Nothing about their marketing appeals to me. Come to think of it, I’ve never even been inside one of their stores. (Read: because it’s across the hall from Old Navy, where I spend a fairly obscene amount of money.)

In fact nothing about their product appeals to me.

Do you know why? It’s not for me.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right. A company did market research, decided who their target market was and then created product lines and associated marketing campaigns to follow suit.

That’s good business. (Ethical business? That’s another story.)

So what can we learn from this marketing and discriminatory abomination? Oh my various Gods, so very much. Here is what you can learn from Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch.

Find a target market and stick to it

So many artists are terrified that if they don’t create a brand that appeals to everyone they will never possibly make a sale.

I cannot possibly stress this enough: if you market to everyone, you’re marketing to no one.

This also applies to your website. If you make it for everyone, you’re making it for no one.

Mr. Jeffries puts it this way: “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.”

Unpleasantly phrased but totally correct.

Be honest about who you’re trying to attract

Say it loud and clear. My own tagline says “Web design and strategy for artists and arts-based businesses.” If you run a mold removal service, I have told you immediately that I’m probably not the web designer you’re looking for.

Mr. Jeffries has been incredibly clear about who his company is trying to market towards, and he’s not backing down. Why should he? Abercrombie & Fitch made millions of dollars last year.

He and his marketing department define it like this, “Candidly, 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.”

Again, this is unpleasant, but honest. Nothing to hide there.

Be true to your brand

Obviously Abercrombie & Fitch have been open and honest about who they are trying to attract and who they want working for them. If they didn’t make this (disgusting) policy a part of every marketing campaign or employee hire they would be watering down their brand and not delivering on their promise (if you buy our clothes, you’re clearly cool and attractive).

Jeffries said this: “Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomachs who look like they’re about to jump on a surfboard.” What do a very large many of their ads depict? People who have washboard stomachs who are either surfing or on the beach.

Make sure your website isn’t really slick and polished and flashy if your paintings are gorgeously flowly and serene.

Stay on brand and on message, always.


Now, I feel that I should say very clearly that I do not agree with the policies of Abercrombie & Fitch and I applaud everyone who unsubscribes from their mailing lists or chooses never to go into the store again because of this. You can choose to vote with your wallet and I really hope you do.

If you liked this post, then you’ll love these: