Too Little, Too Late? Abercrombie Sponsors Anti-Bullying Scholarships

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Still reeling from last month’s controversy over CEO Mike Jeffries’ ill-advised comments, Abercrombie & Fitch is trying to right the ship by supporting a rather ironic cause. 

The brand announced that it would be providing college scholarships through the National Society of High School Scholars Foundation to teens that have succeeded academically while dealing with bullying or being a figure in the anti-bullying effort, according to a press release. The renewable scholarships will be given out starting in 2014 by an advisory committee including Dr. Joel Haber, an anti-bullying and cyber-bullying expert and advisor to the 2012 documentary, Bully.

“We’ve listened to the conversations and heard the message and, as a company, look forward to increasing our commitment to anti-bullying efforts,” Jeffries stated in the release. “We are fully committed to fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion—one in which no young person should ever feel intimidated, especially at school, whether for the clothes they wear, or because someone perceives them as different.”[more]

The announcement follows the sizable fallout that stemmed from years-old comments rehashed in a Business Insider story in May, where Jeffries was quoted saying the A&F brand was exclusionary and only wanted “cool kids” wearing its clothes. Consumers were outraged, taking to social media and boycotting the brand’s retail stores. When Q1 results rolled in, the impact was palpable: the brand lost $7.2 million and overall sales plunged 9 percent. 

While the brand will also support an anti-bullying speaking tour, critics aren’t convinced by its sudden open-arms stance. Blogger Benjamin O’Keefe, the 18-year-old who started the Change.org petition against Abercrombie said, “It doesn’t make sense that a company that is still bullying itself is now working on an anti-bullying campaign,” according to The Huffington Post. “They’re still continuing to ignore what tens of thousands of people have mandated from them,” said O’Keefe, whose petition demanded the retailer “make clothes for teens of all sizes,” has racked up more than 75,000 signatures. “It’s not enough, it’s not sincere, it’s just a way to try to avoid the bigger issue.”

Last month when the controversy was raging, O’Keefe visited the brand’s headquarters in hopes to meet with Jeffries (which didn’t happen). “I left Abercrombie with a challenge: redefine what is ‘cool.’ Right now their brand is not cool; it represents discrimination. Abercrombie did that to themselves by insisting on a dangerous ideal of beauty. But this controversy represents an opportunity for them to rescue their brand’s image by redefining cool to include the diversity that teens represent and value.”

Is the scholarship initiative a good enough first step? Let us know in the comments.

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