Saturday, 14 December 2013

Interview with Abercrombie and Fitch Model

I'm sure you've heard of the name along with many other leading Designer brands like Ralph Lauren or Lacoste: Abercrombie and Fitch is one of the biggest names in retail also owning Hollister and Gilly Hicks. Originally an elite outfitter for expensive shotguns and fishing rods, A&F currently brands itself on the 'All-American' 18-22 year old Natural and Youthful Beauty that promotes luxury casual and outdoor wear. However, the store has been attacked for often displaying their clothes on semi-nude models, usually showing off a very muscular man and slim and tall women in a sensual pose that is then photographed, framed and hung in every store.  Despite the company's phenomenal success, it has come under fire on numerous occasions: A&F have been accused of promoting the sexualization of pre-teen girls by marketing thongs to 10-year-olds and padded bikini tops to 7-year-olds, in 2004, the company was sued for giving desirable positions to white applicants and in 2011, the Belgian Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism started an investigation into A&F's hiring and remuneration policies. It was suspected that they only hire staff under 25 years old, making heavy demands on the physical appearance of its staff and rewarding a premium to male models that work shirtless. If you didn't already know, the start of Abercrombie and Fitch's shopping experience is the opportunity to have your photo taken with an attractive male model at the front of the shop. However, the latest outrage at the brands' ideals and policies was when the CEO, Mike Jeffries said:
" In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. 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. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. 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.’”
However, despite these controversial issues, A&F have not been affected by the thousands of fans who visit every single day to see what the shop is all about and the brand still continues to produce good-quality and attractive clothing.
They have two types of staff - the Models (not Photographic models, who are  Sales Assistants and who model the different outfits throughout the store) and the Visual Assistants who help with the stock and the presentation of the Store. I caught up with one of Abercrombie's models to see what all the hype is about.
Kinga1Kinga Odor, Second-Year French with English Student at Kings, Works at A&F. Oh, and might I mention, full-time Cutie Pie too.

How long have you been working at Abercrombie and Fitch?
I think I've been working there almost a year and a half now.
So you're a 'Model' at Abercrombie, what does that mean?
That basically means that  we have to wear the clothes and that we represent the brand.
You're almost like a walking mannequin then? (laughs)
Yeh! Kinda. But that doesn't mean that you have to be a real model. They expect us to be really, really, really friendly to customers. We have to be extremely nice and chat to them. We want every customer to feel that they have been acknowledged and feel welcome in the shop. We have to greet every single customer and say "Hey, How's it going?", it's something that they want us to do to everyone to show good customer service. But I find that a lot of people don't like it.
Why is that?
Because if people want to go shopping by themselves or with friends, they want to be left alone and sometimes you don't need help at all. If you do, you would just go and ask. Some people are like "Yes, I'm fine",  "Just leave me alone" or "Give me some space" and you have to respect that.
Is there anything that you're expected do other than greeting the customers?Everything that comes with clothes shopping  - we help them with the sizes, we call the stock room if the items aren't there. The shop is pretty large and dark, so for some people it bothers them. Sometimes, when we don't have enough cashiers, they ask us to step in.
With the brand being so popular and being an All-American Brand, what kind of reaction do you get from the customers? I'm sure some of them are very excited.Oh yeh! You wouldn't believe how some people are. Especially young girls, like the 11-14 year olds who are so excited and happy to be there. They have a photo for a shirtless guy and it seems like it's the best thing in the world for them. At the same time, there are some people who seem rather disappointed. I remember I had this old lady about a year ago. I think it was a Saturday because the store was really busy. She was freaking out and she came to me and she was like: "How do you get out of this terrible place, oh my god it's like being in Hell. Please help me."
And she was genuinely frightened and shocked because of the loud music and the crowd. I could see the fear in her face. A lot of people complain about the loud music and because it's dark.
Why do you have the darkness in the shop?
I'm not sure, I think it's to give the idea that you're in a club. Because we have the loud music, it seems like you're at a night club. They want to be unique as well, for example with the perfume that has to be sprayed on all the clothes.
What's been the most stressful day at work.
It was last summer during the Olympics. It was crazy. I was working pretty much every day. For a lot of tourists, Abercrombie is an icon and they want to see it alongside Big Ben and they want to take photos but they're not allowed.
Are you a big Abercrombie fan yourself or do you just enjoy working there?
Well to be perfectly honest, since we don't have A&F in Hungary which is where I'm from, I hadn't really heard of it before. When I came here I had a Hungarian friend and she told me about the store and I had no idea about it but I desperately needed a job. I went in and asked for an interview and I was really lucky as my problems were solved in terms of finding a job. The clothes are expensive but they are good quality.
Do you have a lot of friends there? What are the benefits of working there?
I've been really lucky with making friends at work. One of the benefits is that most of the people are my age and they are all so nice. First I was really, really anxious, especially when I did the training. I don't know why I was so scared because everyone turned out to be so nice. I have friends from Germany, the States, Australia, Italy and France. They have the Abercrombie Parties, sometimes they have them with Hollister as well. I don't really go because I'm not much of a clubber but I've heard they're really good. I did go once and it was an awesome night with free drinks and a great DJ.
What do you think of the idea of queuing outside for a photo of a shirtless man? Are you friends with any of them?
At the end of the day when you think about, that shirtless guy is someone like you. These young girls treat him like he's god. I think it's funny.
Do you have an idea about the type of job you want for the future? Does working at Abercrombie make you want to continue in retail?I don't see myself working in retail, that's for sure. But, I think it will help me with the fact that I have experience and my level of organisation. I don't know what I'll do in the future but at the moment it's perfect for me and it's flexible. I don't see myself doing this for a long time though, maybe for 2 or 3 years and then sadly say goodbye to Abercrombie.

Did you hear about the comment that the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch made about his customers and the type of people wearing his clothes? How does that make you feel about working for his company?
To be  honest, it makes me feel really sad. Because by working for the company, it looks as if I support what he's saying when I don't. I'm really grateful for the work, but at the same time if a smaller and larger lady comes to me and asks for an XL, I have to say I'm so sorry but large is the largest size we have in the store. You can see how sad they are and I just feel so bad, it's the worst feeling the world. I feel like I'm hurting their feelings. People have been asking me what I think about this policy. But I cannot really criticise it at the same time because I'm working there.
In three words, what comes to mind when you think of A&F?
Fierce, fun and boredom. Fierce is the name of the fragrance. When I come home, all of my clothes smell of it and after a year and a half I'm sick of the smell. Fun is because I really enjoy my time at work when my friends are there. We secretly meet up sometimes, until the manager comes.. And the third one is boredom because there are some mornings when the store is empty. I have a rule that I cannot check the time but our new role says that we cannot have our phone so I can't check the time now anyway.