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Abercrombie & Fitch versus Muslim religion

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POSTED September 2, 2010 2:10 a.m.
Abercrombie & Fitch, to put it politely, sells sex.

Go into any one of their stores such as the one in Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto. Besides the fact it is darker than a cave with trendy music playing on the cusp of being too loud, the stores are dominated by two other distinctive features: Larger than life suggestive black and white photos of teen boys and teen girls adorn the walls and the staff all dresses to reflect “the look.”

They go as far as to have a greeter who must play the role to a “T” right down to the dress and the mannerism.

This is not the type of store where someone guided by religious modesty shops, let alone works.

Abercrombie & Fitch has been criticized for their edgy marketing that included publishing catalogs that could easily be mistaken for soft porn yet it has passed all litmus tests for a company marketing in the Land of the Free – until now.

The edgy clothing retailer is in trouble for refusing to hire a Milpitas teenager who happened to be Muslim because she wore a colorful hijab that matched her outfit when she applied for a store job in the Great Mall in Milpitas.

The hijab – or head scarf – is worn for modesty purposes.

The manager – as sensitive as one can be in the land of Abercrombie & Fitch – reportedly asked if she was Muslim when she applied for a merchandise stocking job in March of 2008. The manager then wrote “not Abercrombie look” on the interview form.

That has led the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a suit against Abercrombie & Fitch in federal court in San Francisco accusing the Ohio-based firm of discriminating on the basis of religion.

A more accurate description of Abercrombie & Fitch’s strategy would be that it discriminates on the fact the applicant was probably too wholesome to peddle their products. Take a look around the A&F stores. They all look like clones. There is not a single overweight employee or even one that doesn’t reflect the looks of young men and young women that A&F is using to create a marketing image. It is the Stepford Wives with a Lady GaGa bent.

A&F’s lawyers contend allowing an employee to dress to the modesty level encouraged by the Muslim religion “would have created an undue hardship” for the company. Freely translated, it is sex that sells Abercrombie & Fitch clothing as if that should surprise anyone.

The teen – who was not identified – is quoted in a statement released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as saying, “The interview crushed me, and I never imagined anyone in the Bay Area would reject me because of my head scarf. They just didn’t miss out on a hard worker. They lost a customer.”

There are a lot of contrary things in religion. I get that. Even so, how can a young woman who wears a hijab out of respect for her particular religion’s principles possibly feel right shopping in a store that for all practical purposes markets sex?

Of course, every religion has folks who practice it but don’t exactly toe the line.

Even so, it seems a rather bizarre stance to sue for discrimination in this case based on religion unless the goal is to sanitize Abercrombie & Fitch which, depending upon your take, may not be all that bad of a thing.

Federal law does require employers - even those with a bite of edge in their marketing that requires cloned employees – to accommodate their worker’s religious practices unless, of course, it creates an undue hardship.

In order for A&F to dodge that bullet they’d have to argue somehow that someone is going to see a modestly dressed employee in an Abercrombie & Fitch store and leave post haste apparently offended that they don’t look like a clone or ooze that A&F look.

Sorry, but Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t exactly Hooters but it also isn’t Sears.

It may be wrong for A&F to do what they did but it is also wrong when someone goes to impose their belief system on others especially when those sets of values are contrary.
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