I have a confession to make: I find Abercrombie & Fitch quite fascinating. The long queue of girls and boys going crazy for the hunky shirtless male models during the opening of their Hong Kong flagship store back in 2012, is a picture that is truly hard to forget. As a design student, I find it bizarre how much my peers are willing to pay for these crappy clothes (I apologize for my bluntness); as a marketing student however, I have a certain respect for their (once) effective marketing strategies. I remember what my tutor said to us at the beginning of our second year: “When you graduate from this course, you should be able to sell your work, even if it’s just a collection of white t-shirts.” For Abercrombie & Fitch, it is the good old all-American sex sells trick, but sadly it still works!

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For this Styling project, we were asked to respond to Fashion Revolution, an event carried out every year on 24 April in memory of the 1133 people killed and over 2500 injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh on the same day in 2013. Fashion Revolution challenges consumers to wear an item of clothing inside-out and to ask the brands the question “who made my clothes?” through social media platforms. It is an attempt to make a change in our industry and to raise awareness of the things going on in the supply chain, which, let’s be honest, we all normally just simply ignore. I think the project really challenged me not just as a designer, but also as a consumer; as a person. When I started doing this project, I started questioning myself: why am I not paying attention to the people making the clothes in factories far far away from us at all?

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When I was given the challenge to pick a brand to find out more about their supply  chain, and to do a photoshoot using garments from the brand, it was natural for me to pick A&F. From their CEO’s offensive comments concerning the definition of  “cool kids” and the quite infamous #FitchTheHomeless campaign; Abercrombie is always on the news. Despite the forgettable clothes, Abercrombie & Fitch has clearly found its way to make itself memorable; the highly sexualized ads, the carefully selected attractive staff and of course, the series of controversies they have stirred up over the years.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

                            Michael S. Jeffries, chairman and CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch

I was really “inspired” by this cool-kids statement, and when I dug a little bit deeper, I found out that they actually released a series of t-shirts with racists messages in 2002, which had to be recalled after receiving large amount of complaints. The theme of the photoshoot was about Asian stereotypes (something I know a lot about being an Asian living in a western country); how Asians are being portrayed in Western culture. I was also aiming to explore through this project how this particular brand and part of our society define “coolness” and the type of beauty and message the fashion industry is representing.
Over the years, brands and retail stores across the world have been looking for ways to reduce their production costs. The rise of high street brands like Zara, Primark and H&M prove that consumers want to buy more with less. People might think it makes more sense for someone who spends 2000 pounds on an Alexander Mcqueen dress to care about where it was made. But should we care at all when we are, for example, buying a £10 top from Topshop? Yes, we do see the “Made in China” or “Made in Turkey” tag on the garment, but what about the working condition at the factory?

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Apart from the Rana Plaza factory accident, let’s take Abercrombie and Fitch as an example, in 2010, one of their factories in Bangladesh had a fire which caused the death of 29 workers. From a moral point of view, as the clothes get cheaper and cheaper, we have to start questioning: “why is it so cheap?” It is a responsibility shared between the consumers and the people running the brands. Underpaid workers working overtime under terrible conditions, child labour: these are problems that have been around for ages but have not been resolved. Just because we are so far away from the people making our clothes — and because we are usually seeing the products being displayed in a glamorous retail environment — doesn’t mean we can just forget about the blood and sweat behind the production. We all know that a garment is a very personal item — when you probably would care about the guy making your espresso at the café every morning, do you really not see the point of finding out more about the guy who made your favourite sweater?
 

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Words by Derek Cheng

Special thanks to Photographer Sarah Liu and models: Eshan Kali, Alex Po, Carol Chen, Yuki Leung, Jessica Au, Martin Wang and Takahiro Yaguchi

For more information about Fashion Revolution, please visit their website:
http://fashionrevolution.org/

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