By now, you’ve probably heard about the scandalous, and ugly stance of Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mark Jeffries. And by now, you’ve also probably heard, and even shared, the video by Greg Karber imploring us to #FitchtheHomeless.
In case you don’t know about it, the basic premise is that A&F makes no apologies for refusing to carry sizes bigger than a Large/10, and only hiring good looking “cool” kids to work their stores. If you’re not thin, beautiful, rich, and popular, you aren’t welcome to wear their clothing. Furthermore, A&F burns defective merchandise rather than donating it…for fear of it tainting their image by getting into the wrong hands. Because, cool, hip, beautiful people are rich enough to buy new…the people who can’t afford it are the wrong people altogether.
In what seems on the surface to be an ingenious idea, Karber started a campaign where he encourages everyone to find any and all Abercrombie clothing…whether it be in your closet, your friend’s closet, or even your local Goodwill…and donate it to your local homeless shelter and/or even pass it out to the local homeless guy on the corner.
You know, when I first saw the video, I smirked. After all, A&F needs a major kick the gut after being such pompous jerks. It’s just gross, and “giving it to The Man” is always kinda fun. Jeffries doesn’t want to donate clothes? Let’s do it for him! He wants only pretty people to wear his stuff? We’ll show him!
Look, let me start by saying this: I love the act of clothing the homeless. Truly. My heart aches every time I see a poor soul begging on the corner. Do I find the words of A&F CEO disgusting and appalling? Absolutely. Do I want him to get one, great, big slice of Humble Pie? You know it. And you know, I realize that the creator of #FitchtheHomeless has nothing but good intentions at heart. Frankly, I think we could be fast friends. Just like I know that anyone who shared the video, helping it go viral almost overnight, was simply joining in what they genuinely believed was the Good Fight.
That is, if the Good Fight is telling Abercrombie (and every other major corporation) that discrimination is ugly and will not be tolerated, I’m in.
But at what expense? Are we inadvertently fighting judgmental discrimination through another, more subtle form of discrimination?
Years ago, I read this book, and it completely changed the way I viewed the homeless. And it is because of my deep love of ALL human beings, that I had to stop short of sharing that video and rushing to my local thrift store scour the racks and do the same. Even if I want nothing more but to see a tail between the legs apology (or better yet, a full collapse of their hyper sexualized brand).
Hang with me for a second…
Let’s change the parameters of this Screw A&F Campaign real quick: what if we suggested that we go to every local high school and gave A&F clothing to the fattest, ugliest, pimply faced teenagers we could find? You know, the “dork” who sits eating his sandwich alone? The one who is bullied and threatened and has soda “accidentally” spilled on him by the jocks? You know, the exact type of person who A&F absolutely does not, under any circumstances want wearing his clothes?
YEAH! Let’s give it to A&F! Let’s find the exact opposite of what he wants, and do it! Screw him! And you know, let’s not only do it, but let’s take pictures of the fat, nerdy, socially awkward kids wearing his clothes and let’s share it! Twitter! Facebook! Pinterest! We’ll show HIM! HaHa Sucker! There’s your cool clothes and the biggest, ugliest dork we could find!!! BOOYAH!
I probably don’t have to say that this would be appalling and unacceptable.
In fact, this “idea” would be as despicable as the A&F CEO himself.
So…what are we saying…as a culture…as a society…when we don’t see homeless people in the same light and with the same level of respect? After all, aren’t we seeking out the least cool, unhip, lowest tier of the economic ladder, and doing the exact. same. thing.?! We paint it with the broad brush of philanthropy…but we’re clothing them!!! We’re standing up to Big Corporation and doing Good all at the same time!
Well, yes. And that is good. So very good. But at what price? Good intentions don’t always translate into good things. Do you want free clothing…homeless or otherwise…if you were the inadvertent butt of an internet joke?
Now, I’m pretty sure someone is thinking “But they’re homeless! They don’t have the internet. So they don’t even know. And they’re getting desperately needed clothing. It’s a win-win! You’re being too sensitive, Jeannett.”
I mean, if that’s me being sensitive, I guess I can’t get mad when a group of kids makes fun of the mentally disabled kid in class…because, you know, it’s not like they understand that we’re making fun of them…in fact, they smile and think we’re laughing with them…so really, it’s nice of us…we’re making him laugh!
Maybe I’m being sensitive. Maybe I’m reading into it too much. Maybe.
Or maybe, we are all buying into the lie that homeless people are simply bums…and not homeless people. People with feelings and hearts and souls and worth.
It’s a subtle belief that none of us (myself included) would admit to holding onto: the homeless population are our modern day lepers. But here it is, front and center…albeit a little hidden under all the layers of a society who is absolutely sick and tired of all the gross and over the top focus on only Photoshop attainable beauty. Can I tell you how absolutely thrilled I am to see our collective anger over this? I love that we are fed up with Hollywood’s ridiculous standards. I am so excited to see us join forces to tell the powers that be that we will not tolerate this unnatural obsession with perfection any longer. It is a good, good, good thing. Truly.
But positioning the homeless as the butt of an internet hashtag, does not cease to make them a pawn in our little internet games. Nor does it undo the fact that we are now committing the very crimes we are trying to fight against!
So now what? I mean, maybe you’ve shared the video to all of your friends…maybe you laughed and thought it was a brilliant ploy…whatever. It’s okay. It sucks that we forget and compartmentalize others…but it happens…and the real test of beauty is in being humble enough to make an about face and admit that it wasn’t the right approach after all.
Rather than #FitchtheHomeless, perhaps it simply needs to be #DitchtheFitch. Period.
Scour your closets. Get rid of it all. And you know what? Donate it to the thrift shop. Quietly. Unceremoniously. If someone (poor, hipster, or otherwise) chooses to buy it…great. But no need to seek out the homeless specifically.
But more importantly, don’t shop there. Ever. Again.
If you have children who like their clothing, teach them that you cannot in good conscience support a company who’s values are so disgusting.
TOMS shoes taught our youth that giving is good. They managed to take a simple canvas shoe, and build an empire by encouraging others to think beyond themselves. Buy one pair of (ugly) shoes…give a pair. Our kids bought into this form of philanthropy and have spent millions in this kind of one to one campaign. Is it perfect? Probably not. But it’s a start. It’s the beginning of the next generation remembering that there is someone else out there…that life isn’t all about them and those in their zip code. It’s a start.
Let’s also teach our kids that the reverse is true: encourage companies who make a difference for the better…and do not support companies who’s value system is contrary to ours.
There are so many ways to make a difference in our world…and our dollars….and where they go is absolutely a part of that picture.
But so is our response to collective frustration. We must not jump to embrace a proposed solution if it simply poses a different problem.
In the end, it’s just not worth it.
*Disclosure: amazon affiliate link used.