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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Letter from the Editor! | The Hollister Seoul, South Korea, Scandal + Ramblings on Discipline and Stereotypes...

The presence of the Abercrombie & Fitch Company in Asia now finds itself on shaky grounds. Old wounds from the past have resurfaced in the form of a humiliating new scandal which has not only sent shockwaves around the world, but now reaffirms, within the minds of some of the afflicted, the negative stereotypes of Abercrombie & Fitch believed to have been once reduced to insignificance. And ground zero to this turbulent state of international affairs is Seoul, South Korea, where the established consumer now debates the character and ethics of a foreign Company attempting to make its mark on the South Korean market...

Surely, you have heard, by now, of how one Hollister model who offended the population by mocking the people in a photo capturing him squinting his eyes and raising his hands up in peace signs. And, of course, having no sense of dignity, but plenty of stupidity, as apparent, he went ahead and shared the image on Twitter. (Should you not know, many of the Company's models give the username of their individual Twitter accounts for fans to follow them personally; and while on outings promoting a store opening, they come across these fans who are merely excited to be able to follow an A&F/HCo model). The model's photo was not only a mark of offense to the people in general, but also of disrespect to those as fans who actually followed him as a representative of the Company. And what was even sad was that a few Korean followers liked the photo, even though it was mocking Asians in stereotype, just because it was a "cool" Hollister model doing it...as if that made it acceptable. The model in question even had the nerve to extend his mockery even further: "Hahahaha they ruhhvvvv ittt!," he responded, making fun of their pronunciation of "love." Note, however, that the ones who liked the picture were a minor few (who would make for a great socio-psychological case study), and that the majorly of people have been understandably pissed. And to top it all of, some of the guys even secretly stuck their middle finger out at their side while posing with the fans (who knew nothing of the gesture until they later noticed it in their photos). It is like the models pathetically dared themselves to do so just to have their own perverse fun. After all, that is what this all was...their own little form of perverse fun...









People have even expressed their want to return Hollister merchandise purchased before the scandal erupted. Others, still, call for a boycott of the Hollister store at the IFC Seoul mall which first opened on August 30. And since the Abercrombie & Fitch Company is set to open its first A&F store in Seoul in 2013, you can bet that this has presented a very troubling situation, in terms of trying to establish a sound and reputable presence, in the Korean market!

You may have been wondering why The Sitch on Fitch did not publish a post about the incident earlier, and that is because I was so angry that I wanted nothing to do with it. I did not know where to begin. I figured that I'd rather just flat-out talk about it in another Letter from the Editor, in a more personal tone, just to share with you my feelings of discontent and disappointment. You see, my feelings come from being a person who has seen the Company go global and cultivate a respectable image – years and years of careful work! – only for it to be allowed to receive damaging blows because of faulty hiring practices; recruiting guys from bars, clubs, and gyms not because they are attractive, outgoing, and respectable men, but because they are hot, "fun", and confident/cocky...the perfect recipe for numb-brain, worthless immature jerks. And to be honest with you, I did not like how things were done for the opening of A&F Hong Kong. A bunch of yelling guys bursting from the doors at 12 Pedder Street was not what I had in mind at all...I was expecting something more refined...The HOTTEST Guys as casual, Abercrombie gentlemen setting an image worthy of a near-luxury label as it ventures into the Chinese market and continues on in its presence in the Far East...

But why am I taking about A&F Hong Kong? Because, in essence, what happened in Seoul, with the Hollister models, was finally the exposure, on into the greater public light, of the reckless, stupid behavior of some of these "hot" foreign guys in Asia. Because of the international reach of The Sitch on Fitch, I receive correspondence from many fans worldwide and, by the opening of A&F Hong Kong, I was presented with irrefutable evidence of a small incident that occurred during the 10 Days of Hot Guys (August 3-13). Instead of reporting it on The Sitch on Fitch (which I absolutely could have done, but didn't only out of respect for the person who confided in me), I did the proper thing of passing it all on to Abercrombie & Fitch with the expectation that the Company would act accordingly in dealing with the confidential matter. I can only tell you that if the story had leaked out to regional media sources in HK, it would have been taken out of context, snowballed into a mess, and would have caused A&F a public relations nightmare at the dawn of the A&F brand's initiation into China. If they really did anything about it, I do not know; and, well, as it has turned out, a PR nightmare was only delayed. The cocky-careless attitudes of some of those "hot" guy "models" finally went too far to be ignored, the media blew up in awareness and reaction, and the Company now has some major cleaning up to do.

In response, Abercrombie & Fitch has affirmed that it has fired those immediately involved. Note, that it is only known that those immediately involved have been fired; it is yet unknown how extensive is the internal investigation, across all persons employed for that event, that is if such an investigation has even been done. In a released statement on Facebook, the Company affirmed fans:

" Hollister Co. and its parent company Abercrombie & Fitch value diversity and inclusion. In a recent incident in South Korea, a couple of associates did not adhere to these values. As a company, we do not tolerate inappropriate or offensive behavior. We terminated the associates involved as a result of their actions. On behalf of our more than 80,000 employees around the world who cherish our core values and our culture of diversity and inclusion, we sincerely apologize for the offense caused by these unauthorized, ill-considered actions. " – Statement published on the official Hollister Co Facebook page, 10 September 2012, 2:52 PM (Eastern Standard Time)

And indeed, Abercrombie & Fitch has made transparent efforts of having diversity and inclusion as being a top ethics corporate aspect. But to me, this is not only an issue of diversity and inclusion. No. This is overwhelmingly an issue of faulty hiring practices of bringing on board guys with immature character not suitable for the Abercrombie & Fitch Company of today. The formula of "hot" + "(cocky-confident) cool" does not necessarily equate "respect". And if you notice, I haven't mentioned female models. They rarely take part in the controversies. Girls just seem to have a higher sense of dignity and respect, and unleashed stupid boys will be stupid boys...

In my letter to A&F over the Hong Kong incident, I expressed to them a need for a higher sense of discipline with the male models and of the models' interaction with the fans; that this brings to question the probability of similar reckless behavior having happened on prior occasions, and, more alarmingly, for how long; and that the treatment of fans (friending and then unfriending of Facebook; making inappropriate advances; and playing on, and making fun of, the sentiments of young people only beyond-reason-happy to be talking to an A&F/HCo model, and being fooled or mislead into false feelings of being liked) is highly inappropriate.

I spoke to a friend over the matter and he was adamant in his view that Abercrombie & Fitch was not much at fault because the Company can not control every move the guys make. True. Very true. But then I pointed out to him that, then, the Company should state to its employees something along the lines of: "You are representatives of the Abercrombie & Fitch Company and its Family while in hire and under contract. Any acts on, or away from, Company property, on your part, while in any obvious visual connection to the Company, is a reflection upon us." My friend agree and also pointed out about the discipline inflicted by Apple, Inc., over its employees. Naturally, no company has full control over everything which their employees do...at least not directly. And so my friend brought up fear in employees – the fear of doing anything against the discipline and image of your company because of the risk of losing a great position with great opportunities. This is not saying that the company seeks to inflict fear, but that its discipline is sharply clear and its standards are of high mark enough for any employee to be scared in doing anything offensive, or out of order, with the company. Kinda like religion, with members feeling fear of punishment from falling out of mandate (and even excommunicated, as in Catholicism), but I'm not going to go further down the religion-philosophical road. I am merely pointing out the discipline and order of corporate cultures with unmistakeably defined regulations, ethics, and philosophy which emulates lifestyle and even religion; and many lifestyles and religions undergo reformation, restructure, and redefining for the future betterment of the entity.

The A&F Quarterly Period (1997-2003) of A&F History, defined by brash, irreverent, and careless fun embodied by the A&F Quarterly, was a time when the image of the Abercrombie & Fitch Company came to be attacked, shaken, and reconsidered by the consumer and the general populace. All major modern stereotypes about the Abercrombie & Fitch Company have their roots in the A&F Quarterly Period. Out of that Period, after the cancellation of the Quarterly, came the cultivation of a clean, near-luxury, international, and diverse corporate image through refinement guided by respect. However, the Company continues to struggle with the legacy of the A&F Quarterly Period. Even today, there still lingers ideas that the Company sexualizes the young and that it is discriminatory. (And I can not tell you how many times Chinese people left negative comments, of which I took time to delete, on The Sitch on Fitch during the 10 Days of Hot Guys in Hong Kong, about A&F discriminating against Asian peoples, particularly because of the 'Two Wong brothers make it white' humor tee – stereotyping Chinese immigrant males as laundrymen and mocking their accents – controversy of 2002 that is still in the minds of people out there). What happened in Seoul has only given fuel to these ideas of discrimination and insensitivity which were previously reduced to only a footnote in the stereotypes of A&F Culture...

But are we now, in the year 2012, bound to enter another historic point in a second reconsideration of A&F corporate practices? What ever this new scandal may become, and while considering this year's initiatives of "smarter commerce", the reevaluation of international expansion, and the entrance of Abercrombie & Fitch into the Chinese market, I believe 2012 to be already one of the most defining years in A&F History. Ultimately, all we can do is sit back and watch as the development of the current state of affairs unfold.

You want to express an opinion or comment? Please feel free to do so below...

Stay FIERCE!


C.E.R., editor-in-chief