My kids are still too young to shop at Hollister or its ugly step-sisters, Abercrombie and Fitch. But with Big Brother starting to comb his hair each morning and actually starting to have an opinion about what he wears, it’s not too soon to start thinking about how to teach my boys to be smart consumers. The recent faux-pas by this clothing chain involves some male models at a Hollister store opening in Korea, tweeting photos of themselves making “squinty eyes” and the peace sign so popular with Asian youth.
My problems with this company are numerous: the cologne fumes that waft out of every store, the overly suggestive photos, and the need to stamp their brand name across their clothes. Of course, every teenager in America (not to mention Asia) wants to wear them. Hollister’s parent company, Abercombie and Fitch has sold tees with ancient Chinese stereotypes, and has been sued for firing a Muslim employee for wearing a headscarf and for discriminatory hiring practices against blacks, Latinos and Asians. And just in case we needed any other reasons not to plunk down our hard earned cash at this retailer, I have to think about who it really benefits if we buy their clothes.
It reminds me of a time in my own life, say middle school, when ESPRIT sweatshirts were all the rage. All the cool kids had them. All my friends had them. Therefore, I had to have one. After much begging, my parents agreed to take me to the ESPRIT outlet in San Francisco’s warehouse district, where we queued up around the block for a chance to rummage through tables full of pedal pushers and crop tops. When we finally pushed our way to the front, grabbed armloads of clothes, and it was time to make a final decision, my dad laid down one ground rule. “No shirts with brand names written on them,” he insisted. “They should be paying you to advertise for them.”
I whined and pouted, but to no avail. Instead, I came home with a candy-cane striped miniskirt and a solid red polo shirt. While that outfit has long been sent to the Salvation Army, the lesson sticks with me to this day.
They should be paying you to advertise for them.
Those of you who know me in person have probably never seen me in a logo t-shirt. Even my kids, when they were little said, “Mommy, you wear boring shirts.” It takes a lot for me to slap words across my chest, but I will occasionally don a tee advertising my kids’ school or an event I took part in. And if I’m ever to wear a shirt with a brand name on it, you’d better be sure that is a company whose ethics I stand by, not some poseur surf shop with a history of anti-Asian slurs. My children have been known to wear a rag tag collection of free shirts from day camps and other activities, but middle school is right around the corner.
I know how good it feels to wear clothes that make you feel cool. I also know how powerful it feels to go against the flow, to vote with your wallet, and to make a stand. When the time comes, I just hope that I’ll also be able to teach them how to let their actions — and not their t-shirts — do the talking.