Who can forget the chiseled abs, strong whiff of cologne, and mega-watt smiles when being greeted at the door? Abercrombie & Fitch was a clothing brand staple in the late 1990s that has since become overshadowed by claims of toxic work culture.
The highly anticipated White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch documentary premieres on Netflix tonight, detailing the dark side of one of America’s most popular retail companies that was once a “pop-culture phenomenon.”
“Ambercrombie rooted themselves in discrimination at every single level,” one interviewee said. “There’s a reason people liked that brand. Exclusion is part of our society.”
Former employee Carla Barrientos, who was 19 when she scored a job at her local A&F in the Valley Plaza Mall, echoed those statements.
“The whole culture of what’s cool and who’s cool, it’s all fluff, it’s not important. The culture at the time really was exclusion, it looks so different than where we are, and good thing times have changed,” she explained as the doc dived into the brand’s past controversial hiring and firing practices in addition to their workplace culture.
“I mean this was the practice,” she added. “To go into a store, and I started to notice I was hired to work on the floor and everyone who worked on the floor was white. There was something that was happening and it didn’t mirror my real life.”
Mike Jeffries, the former CEO of A&F, also faced criticism for admitting they were going “after the cool kids” in terms of their marketing strategy, stating, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
He later apologized for the remarks, clarifying “we are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behavior based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics.”
The doc notes that Barrientos along with several other ex-employees were plaintiffs in a 2003 class action lawsuit against A&F alleging discrimination. The lawsuit was settled for $40 million the next year.
Abercrombie & Fitch later hired Fran Horowitz-Bonadies as CEO in 2017, who reportedly told CNBC that “we are no longer the brand that we used to be” and will be moving forward in a positive direction.