Will A Sikh Model Help Abercrombie & Fitch Give Its Brand A Much-Needed Makeover? - Homegrown

Will A Sikh Model Help Abercrombie & Fitch Give Its Brand A Much-Needed Makeover?

Over the years, Abercrombie & Fitch has racked up numerous counts of alleged incidents of racism, sexism and discrimination. Between their dependence on overly-sexualised ad campaigns, having men with rock-hard abs parade around their stores as attendants, and being slammed for not storing larger sizes—not to mention their obvious catering to only a very specific audience (read: fit, white Americans) it would be pretty fair to gauge that inclusiveness hasn’t always been a very high priority to the brand. However, in the age of digital vocalisation—which can translate to very serious monetary losses—it’s nice to see them at least attempting to turn over a new leaf, even if they had to be pushed into it

Having taken the accusations seriously, A&F has taken it upon themselves to  remodel and rebrand with the aim of inclusion, diversity and promoting a positive body image, things other clothing companies such as American Apparel have also been criticised for shirking in the recent past. And the first step of this mission involves an Indian model of Sikh descent. Meet Neelam Gill.

Belonging to a working class family, Singh  hails from the United Kingdom, having previously gained fame as the first Indian model cast in a Burberry campaign, and is now the first woman of colour to be the face of the A&F label.

Mike Jeffries, the CEO of A&F in 2014 who resigned at the age of 70, faced severe media backlash after making several controversial decisions, be it  photo-shoots of scantily-clad teenagers in highly  provocative poses to hiring topless men as 'greeters,' in stores, going as far as to state in an interview that  “good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people…a lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong,” when he was asked why they don’t stock larger sizes.

After his resignation, and a couple of lawsuits, the company has undertaken steps to make itself culturally and ethnically diverse, and the hiring of Neelam Gill as a big step in including models of colour, amongst other things, into the campaigns and the company as a whole.

Gill now stands as a the voice of this reinvention and evolving company, taking to her YouTube channel and interviews to talk about the racism and discrimination she has faced through the years.

In an interview with London's Evening Standard magazine she said, "The industry is improving — but there is a long way to go… There needs to be a major change in model casting. A lot of shows cast non-white models as a token thing. I have never seen a show with more than one black, Asian or Indian girl, which is frustrating.” In another interview with Daily Mail she spoke of how ironic it is that the same girls who bullied her and called her a ‘Paki’ as an insult, now walk around in the very clothes of companies that she models for,  something she’s learned to find amusing.

In the eyes of the public, A&F’s sudden inclusion of a darker-skinned model might seem as a last-ditch attempt to save the plan, and it probably even is. Nevertheless, the fact that we live in times when public pressure can be used to catalyse positive corporate change is optimistic at the very least. Will their attempt be well-received? Only time will tell. But for now, we only hope to see Gill and other ethnically-diverse models feel more and more at home in an industry that’s become notorious for its overt discrimination.

Words: Sara Hussain 

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