The company is known for its good-looking, preppy image, attempting to symbolize “American cool,” is suffering for assuming that coolness extends only to white people. Abercrombie & Fitch has long been criticized for the lack of diversity in its workforce; employment discrimination lawsuits have cost the company $50 million the past four years.

With a new vice president of diversity to oversee hiring in stores and sponsorships of diversity events, Abercrombie is moving beyond the requirements established by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It also ranks its stores according to their minority hiring practices, highlighting the top 25 and bottom 50 with the highest and lowest percentages of minority hires. As a result, 35% of 88,000 store employees represent ethnic minorities. Yet many of these employees allege they get hired only for backroom jobs, because they do not fit the “Abercrombie” image, whether because of their race or their attractiveness.

In an effort to determine what is happening inside its stores, the company commissions minority secret shoppers to compare their experiences with those of white secret shoppers. With more than 1000 stores, ensuring diversity in each and every store seems daunting, and a single store that does not operate fairly can be extremely costly.

And the problem may not be limited to stores. The company’s headquarters is much less diverse, and its black-and-white advertising photos still feature all-white models. Thus, not much of Abercrombie’s overall culture indicates diversity.  Abercrombie is not about to transform its marketing completely, but it seems reasonable to expect it to be more truly American in its look.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why is Abercrombie trying to be more ethically diverse?
  2. What is it doing?
  3. How well is it doing?

Marla Matzer Rose, “A New Look for Abercrombie,” Columbus Dispatch, November 9, 2008.