The New Face of Abercrombie & Fitch
There's been a lot in the news about various fashion houses and brands making an effort to include a more diverse range of models in their marketing campaigns. Model Mariah Idrissi recently went viral, gaining over 12,000 Instagram followers, after her brief appearance in an H&M spot which featured her in a hijab. Earlier in November, Abercrombie & Fitch announced 20-year old British-Indian model, Neelam Gill, as the new face of the brand. Why is any of this important? Why does a model in a hijab making an appearance for a couple of seconds in a promotional video, or a woman of color being chosen as the face of an international retail brand, immediately make headlines? It all comes down to representation.
Fashion plays a very positive role in the lives of many people, especially young girls and women - it's a way to express confidence and personality in a unique and personal way. That's what makes it so painful for a young girl to look at clothes and designers she admires and appreciates, and have the very distinct feeling that they are not being made for her. Abercrombie and Fitch has been particularly problematic in the aspect. In a 2006 interview with Salon, then CEO Mike Jeffries infamously declared his own brand to be "exclusionary" and meant for "the cool kids". Couple these statements with the "All-American" marketing look of the company - a hoard of buff blue-eyed blondes photographed smiling together, and its easy to see how these messages are harmful to young patrons across the world. Your clothes are an extension of who you are as a person, and to be told that some clothes are "exclusive" or should be out of reach to some, simply because they do not look a certain way is nothing short of ridiculous.
The discrimination at Abercrombie & Fitch didn't stop at marketing. There have been multiple instances of lawsuits filed against the company against alleged discriminatory hiring practices. In 2008, a Muslim woman alleged the company had denied her employment because of her choice to wear a hijab. This comes just five years after the Gonzales v Abercrombie & Fitch Stores class action - filed by nine minority litigants all claiming they had been fired or denied employment as a result of their minority status. In addition, there are countless anecdotal accounts of minority employees being relegated to the stockrooms and other places they couldn't be seen, even while they were perfectly qualified to work the sales floors.
This is why Neelam Gill matters. It's a brand with a very troubling history when it comes to discrimination stepping up and saying that they're trying to make a conscious effort to move away from that past. It's a brand that was once described by its own CEO as "exclusionary" trying to break away from that harmful tag.
Idrissi puts it best when she made the following comment on her H&M spot - "Something as simple of having a photo, like of the one they used of me, behind the counter will attract so many more customers. Because Muslims will start to say, 'Oh yeah, I can wear that, as long as it's done correctly." At the end of the day, it's a way for young girls and women, who may not have blonde hair and blue eyes, to look around the stores and realize that they too can use these clothes to tell their unique personal story.
Obviously there are still gigantic strides to be made when it comes to diversity in fashion marketing campaigns. But it doesn't mean we can't applaud the small steps, and hope they're signaling bigger change right on the horizon. Congratulations Neelam!