Fashion ethics, not exclusion

When Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries said that only attractive, cool people belong in his chain’s clothes, entrepreneur Mark Aink knew he had to respond. He did so by launching a range of t-shirts for people to set their own standards of beauty

“It made me sick,” says Dutch entrepreneur Mark Aink, on hearing of Mike Jeffries’ comments about Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing brand of which Jeffries is the CEO. “I wondered why these companies are such a source of evil when they could be a source of good, if only they would feel just a bit responsible for the world around them,” says Aink. “So at 4am one morning, I came up with We Are Too Beautiful.”

We Are Too Beautiful is a range of 100% organic t-shirts created by ethical cotton and textile producer Bo Weevil. Aimed at spreading the message that real beauty comes from within, as well as communicating a need for fashion companies to become more responsible, the collection has proved extremely popular, according to Aink.

“The reactions have been unbelievable, especially if you consider that we have no budget for marketing,” he says. “People from Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, New York and Tokyo, designers, photographers, actors and thousands of ‘normal’ people have reacted, participated, ordered a shirt, blogged or simply shown us their sympathy. They love the design and the positive vibe.”

Abercrombie & Fitch’s now notorious ‘beautiful people only’ policy was put into words by Jeffries in a 2006 interview with Salon magazine. He is reported to have said: “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

“There is a growing movement of people who want to buy beautiful and well-crafted brands that care about us and the world surrounding us. With We Are Too Beautiful, we clearly struck a chord.”

Though Abercrombie & Fitch spokespeople have recently suggested they will begin to offer larger sizes, the company does not currently offer women’s clothes above a size Large. This stance has been roundly criticised, with almost 81,000 people signing a petition on the issue. Despite all the bad press, Jeffries’ chain was valued at around $4bn last year. However, up-to-date figures suggest shares have dropped around 30% in value since then, with many industry commentators calling it a backlash against Jeffries’ arrogant comments.

Aink believes the brand is representative of a wider malaise in the industry. “In essence, the fashion industry’s purpose is to make people feel good about themselves, next to keeping them warm and protected.

“In the past decades, the industry has been moving in the opposite direction. Fashion is one of the biggest sources of pollution, causes modern slavery and makes people that don’t fit the standard beauty feel lousy about themselves.

“The fast fashion trend leads to disaster. It kills the earth, kills workers in factories and kills people’s appreciation of well-designed and crafted, original pieces of clothing.”

Indeed, according to the Ethical Fashion Forum, growing cotton uses 22.5% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides – chemicals which can be dangerous both for the farmers using them and the environment.

In addition, the increasingly disposable nature of cheap high street fashion means that much of it is destined for incinerators or landfill sites. The UK alone throws away 1m tonnes of clothing every year, only around a quarter of which is recycled.

“It’s time for a positive counter-movement,” says Aink. “There is a growing movement of people who want to buy beautiful and well-crafted brands that care about us and the world surrounding us. With We Are Too Beautiful, we clearly struck a chord.”