Who said girl power was dead?
After a four-hour bus ride from Pittsburgh to New Albany, Ohio, more than a dozen teenage girls who successfully "girl-cotted" Abercrombie & Fitch for selling shirts they found offensive finally met face-to-face with company executives at their headquarters earlier this week.
The retail giant agreed to sit down with the Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers group after it launched a nationwide protest requesting that A&F pull several shirts off its shelves, including tees reading "Gentlemen Prefer Tig Old Bitties" and "With These, Who Needs Brains?" across the chest (see "Abercrombie Pulls T-Shirts After Teen Girls Launch Boycott"). A&F eventually obliged by yanking those two tees and promising to discuss other alternatives with the girls.
While the powers-that-be might not have expected much from the teens, they came dressed in business suits and equipped with a PowerPoint presentation to show off their proposal of five new product lines that included roughly 20 sample slogans like "Beauty Comes From Within and I'm Gorgeous," "Your Future Boss," "In My Lifetime, There Will Be a Woman President," "All This and Brains" and "36 Countries Have Had a Woman President. I'm going to make it 37."
"We want slogans that inspire girls and let them know it's OK to be smart and it's OK to look different from everyone else," said 15-year-old Zoe Feinstein, who explained the reasons behind the girl-cott to the panel. "Some people were saying, 'Why are you taking this so seriously?' since the shirts were meant to be taken as raw irony, but the problem we saw was that the girls wearing them didn't know that."
"The intent when it leaves your studio isn't how it's always taken in the hallways of a high school," added Heather Arnet, one of the girls' advisors who was also present at the meeting.
If Abercrombie does opt to use their slogans, the girls requested that 5 percent of the proceeds go toward the Girls as Grantmakers Foundation, which would then redistribute the funds to young women fighting for social change and equality.
The girls, who represent a wide range of ethnic and social backgrounds, also challenged execs on topics like racism and diversity and corporate social responsibility. Two shirts in particular — one reading "Blondes Are Adored, Brunettes Are Ignored" and another with "I Had a Nightmare I Was a Brunette" — could be interpreted as racist if you replace the word "brunette" with any ethnic group not naturally born blonde, said Arnet, also executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania.
Arnet says Todd Corley, Abercrombie's vice president of diversity, told the girls the company's slogans are thoroughly tested before being put on the market. When challenged on the company's lack of diversity as far as its women models go — most appear to be thin, blonde and Caucasian — Corley urged the girls to visit the diversity section on company's official Web site. The girls responded by saying they shouldn't have to go to online to find people of color in their organization.
Feinstein admits she didn't find the executives particularly responsive, although they kept saying the girls' ideas "weren't falling on deaf ears." "They were civil and seemed to somewhat understand where we were coming from, but they wouldn't elaborate on any next steps," she said. "They just said they would talk it over."
Director of Communications Tom Lennox issued a statement afterward that said, "We had a good meeting and fulfilled our commitment to them." They have declined further comment and did not return calls as of press time.
The company is expected to respond to the girls' product line by Christmas. Sixteen-year-old Emma Blackman-Mathis says the girls are "realistically optimistic" of their odds, and if Abercrombie doesn't pick up the line, there are other offers the girls have received from clothing lines big and small.
"If it doesn't work with them, we're going to make something happen because that's the kind of people we are," said 14-year-old Alexis Papalia.
Fifteen-year-old Emily McGinty agreed, noting that they never expected to get this far. "This whole thing has just given me so much confidence. This has taught us that everyone has a chance to be heard, and that even a whisper is something to break the silence."