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Campaign protests popular clothing brand

Hannah Eliason, 14, poses for a portrait in her room in Concord on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Eliason recently created a YouTube video to protest Abercrombie and Fitch's exclusionary practices. Her goal is to collect Abercrombie and Fitch brand clothes and send them back to the company's headquarters. 

(TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

Hannah Eliason, 14, poses for a portrait in her room in Concord on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Eliason recently created a YouTube video to protest Abercrombie and Fitch's exclusionary practices. Her goal is to collect Abercrombie and Fitch brand clothes and send them back to the company's headquarters. (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff)

When Hannah Eliason goes to the mall, she knows one store where she won’t be shopping.

Angered by comments from Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO in which he acknowledged his brand is “exclusionary,” the 14-year-old from Concord began a campaign about a month ago titled the Stand Up To Abercrombie Project. She created a YouTube video that encourages people to send Abercrombie clothes back to the company and demand that it support efforts against bullying. She’s also created a Facebook page.

“I wanted to do something, like make them face the consequences of their actions, by making them understand and maybe support anti-bullying,” said Hannah, who just graduated from Shaker Road School in Concord and will be a freshman at The Derryfield School in Manchester in the fall.

Her campaign is in response to comments made by Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, during a 2006 interview with Salon. In the interview, Jeffries said his company targets “cool kids.” The brand’s black-and-white ads typically show attractive, thin young adults in relaxed, carefree settings.

“A lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong,” Jeffries told Salon. “Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

His comments resurfaced in early May when a retail analyst referenced them during an interview with Business Insider about how Abercrombie does not stock women’s clothing in XL or XXL sizes. When Hannah heard those statements a few weeks later, she was upset.

Hannah equates Jeffries’s comments with bullying because she says he has singled people out as cool or uncool.

“He’s saying because you’re not cool in a sense, or as skinny as he wants you to be, you can’t buy his clothes from there,” she said.

While many brands do target specific consumers, Hannah said these brands do not explicitly tell consumers they can’t buy clothes from their stores because they are too young or old or large or small. But in effect, Jeffries did, she said.

“I don’t think that’s very cool,” she said. “No one should be making comments like that, and I don’t stand for bullying. Even at school, I’ll stand up for people.”

Inspired by past experience with bullying, Hannah decided to protest. She recruited friends and classmates. Many of her peers were unaware of Jeffries’s comments, she said, but they supported her efforts once they learned more.

She collected articles of the brand’s clothing from friends and neighbors, drew large X’s over their logos and labels in black marker, boxed them up and shipped them back to the company.

In the YouTube video, Hannah and her friend Sam Saliba are seen writing “NOBODY is Perfect!” on the back of a gray T-shirt before they place it in a box with nine other items.

Hannah included a letter to the company in the package.

“The summary of it is, we don’t stand for your bullying, your rude remarks,” she said. “We’re going to try to continue to send clothes back until you support anti-bullying or start your own campaign.”

Hannah does not expect a personal response from Abercrombie, but she said the company should take responsibility for its CEO’s hurtful words and show it is committed to fighting bullying. She and several other kids are assembling another box of clothing to send back to the company.

“My goal would be for them to support (anti-bullying), or do their own anti-bullying campaign,” she said. “But at least for them to know what they did was wrong and maybe speak up about it.”

After Jeffries’s comments resurfaced this spring, protesters started a petition on Change.org to pressure the CEO to apologize for his statements and start selling larger clothes. Jeffries publicly apologized in a post on the company’s Facebook page May 15.

“While I believe this 7 year old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense,” he said in the post. “A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers. However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion.”

The company also issued its own apology a week later.

Despite Jeffries’s efforts, Hannah said she doubted the CEO’s sincerity since he did not apologize until after people expressed outrage. “I can’t really speak for him, but I don’t think that’s full-hearted,” she said.

Hannah’s father, Dave Eliason, said the campaign fits his daughter’s nature.

“She’s a very empathetic person, so that didn’t surprise me that she wanted to do this,” he said. “I was very proud of her.”

Regardless of whether Hannah’s campaign registers with Abercrombie, Dave Eliason said he would consider it a success for one important reason: His daughter stood up for something she believed in and acted in a positive, proactive manner.

“Hopefully it will help other kids voice their concerns or their opinions,” he said. “A lot of teens are afraid to do that because of their parents or friends or peer pressure or society. If nothing else, I’m glad Hannah has done that.”

For information on Hannah’s campaign, watch her YouTube video for the Stand Up To Abercrombie Project at youtube.com/watch?v=wYjd9LrMhEo

(Mel Flanagan can be reached at 369-3321 or mflanagan@cmonitor.com.)

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