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'Girlcott' organizers meet with Abercrombie & Fitch execs over T-shirts

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

By Monica L. Haynes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

NEW ALBANY, Ohio -- Executives of retailer Abercrombie & Fitch yesterday agreed to consider a proposal by the Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers for a line of T-shirts that the girls believe would empower young women rather than demean them.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
Rebecca Adelsheim, right, of O'Hara Township, talks with Elizabeth Clark, left, of Fox Chapel, and Amber Neszpaul, of the South Side, after the meeting they and other members of Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers had with executives at Abercrombie & Fitch in New Albany, Ohio, yesterday. The Girls as Grantmakers pitched positive T-shirt messages to A&F..
Click photo for larger image.

Dressed in business attire and armed with a PowerPoint presentation, members of the grantmakers group did what no older, more established consumer group had been able to do -- talk face-to-face with the company's corporate leaders yesterday at their headquarters.

"I think it went pretty well and I think they took us seriously," said Maya Savage, a 14-year-old student at Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

"I wouldn't be too optimistic for something to come out of this but hopefully it will," said Elizabeth Clark, a 14-year-old from Fox Chapel Area High School.

Yagmur Muftuoglu, a 16-year-old from Gateway High School, said the purpose of the meeting was to show the company, especially its design team, that there are alternatives to the T-shirts that she and other young women find offensive.

"I think we've accomplished that," she said.

Five weeks ago, the group successfully "girlcotted" shirts by the company that they felt were offensive.

Abercrombie & Fitch pulled several of their "attitude" T-shirts last month after five days of protests that drew national and international media attention. The group said the shirts, with slogans like "Who Needs Brains When You Have These?" were demeaning to women.

Martha Rial, Post-Gazette
Members of Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers enter Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters in New Albany, Ohio, for their meeting.
Click photo for larger image.

Sixteen members of the grantmakers group made the three-hour trip to Ohio yesterday. Eleven of the girls, along with advisers Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, and Leslie Williams of the Forbes Fund attended the hour-long meeting with Abercrombie executives.

Ms. Arnet said she was proud of the girls' professionalism.

"They ran that meeting from the beginning to the end," she said. "It was clear that the Abercrombie folks were very impressed with the girls ... I don't think they were expecting them to be able to handle themselves in a boardroom setting."

The company would not allow all of the girls into the meeting. The girls who did not attend stayed on the bus with adviser Kristy Trautmann planning a post-meeting news conference.

Representing Abercrombie & Fitch were Tom Lennox, director of corporate communications; Mike Kramer, senior vice president and chief financial officer; Dana Acock, vice president of human resources; Todd Corley, vice president of diversity; Tom Ward, senior director of conceptual design; and Meredith Hickman, manager of female conceptual design.

The gray nondescript building where the meeting took place looked more like a warehouse than a corporate office. Inside, the girls said, it reminded them of an Abercrombie & Fitch store, with mannequins wearing the company's apparel, techno music in the background and giant pictures of a young, good-looking couple kissing.

Some of the girls said they were surprised that the executives were dressed so casually, wearing the jeans and shirts one might find in the company's catalogue.

Still, the girls said the Abercrombie officials seemed very attentive and told them that their words did not fall on deaf ears.

The girls told the executives that the clothing company's T-shirts were offensive because they objectified women and perpetuated a stereotypical standard of beauty when beauty comes in many forms.

The girls said the executives told them that they use focus groups to develop the T-shirts and that young women in the focus groups felt the shirts were humorous.

The group also pointed out what they saw as the company's lack of diversity.

"I didn't see any black employees except for the diversity person," Ms. Savage said. "They said you just really have to look and you'll see it." She said the group was directed to a diversity link on the company's Web site.

Emma Blackman-Mathis, co-chair of the grantmakers group and a junior at Schenley High School, said she was pleased that the Abercrombie executives agreed to meet with the group.

"They clearly heard our concerns and now we hope to move forward in partnership with them to create more positive and empowering messages for the attitude T-shirt line," she said.

The group wants Abercrombie & Fitch to launch a line of alternative T-shirts by May and donate a portion of the revenue to groups like theirs.

But if the company decides not to work with the girls, they'll do the shirt with another group, they insist.

"If it doesn't work with them we're going to make something happen because that's the kind of people we are," said Alexis Papalia, a 14-year-old CAPA High School student.


(Monica Haynes can be reached at mhaynes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1660.)

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