After years of campaigning, the $3.3 billion global fashion brand Abercrombie & Fitch just announced that it is taking action to end the risk of forest destruction in its clothing.
This is an affirmation of the power of people to impact corporations. Once a laggard, Abercrombie & Fitch is now joining the sea change of over 100 brands like H&M, Zara, Stella McCartney, ASOS, Levis Strauss & Co., and others, who have adopted rainforest-free and exploitation-free fabric policies that are sending waves throughout fabric supply chains globally. Abercrombie & Fitch’s commitment not only sends a signal to other companies that have yet to adopt similar policies, but also to rayon and viscose producers in countries like Indonesia, where the production of wood pulp for fabrics has been devastating for frontline and Indigenous communities.
This change didn’t happen overnight—it is the result of years of campaigning and corporate negotiation. Here’s a timeline of how we got here together:
In September 2014, RAN launched the Out of Fashion campaign targeting Abercrombie & Fitch, among others, to turn the spotlight on companies that had not yet addressed the risk of rainforest destruction and human rights abuses in their rayon, viscose, and modal supply chains (all of which are fabrics made from trees).
In January 2016, we focused our campaigning on Abercrombie & Fitch, which stocks almost 300 items that use fabrics made from trees. The campaign kicked off at a flagship Abercrombie & Fitch store in Santa Monica, CA, with a dozen RAN activists dressed as Abercrombie & Fitch models and declaring: “There’s Nothing Cool About Forest Destruction.”
This in-person action included the launch of an onlnine petition that grew to over 25,000 total supporters calling on the fashion giant to commit to rainforest-free fabrics.
On March 2nd, 2016, more than 600 RAN activists flooded Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters with phone calls on the day it announced its quarterly profits. Hundreds of activists literally called outAbercrombie & Fitch for ignoring the hidden scandal in its clothing and putting its short term profits before people and the planet.
Throughout the life of the campaign, RAN’s supporters across the globe generated a flurry of phone calls, online petitions, and social media posts targeting Abercrombie & Fitch. There were more than 26,000 messages sent by email, Facebook, and Twitter from supporters to company leadership.
Just a few weeks later, on March 22nd, 2016, RAN activists infiltrated an Abercrombie & Fitch executive’s speech to investors at a swanky New York hotel and placed a newly released shareholder report on the conference tables and podium. The report, “Rebranding for the 21st Century”, details the risk of rainforest destruction and human rights abuses in Abercrombie & Fitch’s supply chain. The report was also sent to the top 50 shareholders.
Abercrombie & Fitch makes much of its annual profits from online sales, with a majority of that profit coming from shopping on mobile phones. So in mid-April 2016, hundreds of RAN supporters left “1-star” reviews for Abercrombie & Fitch mobile apps in iTunes and Google Play. The app reviews educated many consumers about what’s in their clothing and put our message directly between Abercrombie & Fitch and its customers.
On May 28th, 2016, people around the world came together for a Day of Action on Abercrombie & Fitch. This flurry of grassroots actions turned up the heat during one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year, Memorial Day weekend. The actions included protests outside stores and delivery of a letter of demands to store managers. Here are a few of the featured actions at flagship Abercrombie & Fitch stores:
San Francisco - Activists drew a crowd for their flash-mob dance outside a flagship store and placed stickers on its clothing labels that read: “Warning: This item may contain rainforest destruction.”
New York City - Models and fashion industry workers held a “runway picket line” through the iconic store on 5th Ave wearing shirts that read: “Rainforest Destruction is Out of Fashion.”
Twin Cities - Residents demonstrated at the flagship store in the Mall of America and “re-decorated” the interior with flyers and stickers. They unfurled banners at the Mall of America and at another Abercrombie & Fitch store in Roseville, MN.
Columbus, OH - Student activists from Ohio State University stormed an Abercrombie & Fitch store near its corporate headquarters to speak out for their future.
In August 2016, the campaign shifted its focus to Hollister—Abercrombie & Fitch’s most profitable brand—because it makes much of its yearly profits by targeting young people through its back-to-school marketing. The company’s #HcoJeansMovement ads—a "movement" to get young people to buy more jeans—were seen as an affront to real-life, youth-led social movements. So on August 23rd, a dozen youth leaders from the Power Shift Midwest conference did a flash mob at a Hollister store in Detroit. Check out the video to catch the full song and dance parody set to a song from the Hollister Co. summer playlist.
On September 9th, 2016, over 50 RAN activists went to Abercrombie & Fitch’s biggest event of the year—its annual party and 5K charity run at its corporate headquarters near Columbus, Ohio. Running as #TeamRainforest, RAN activists directly engaged Abercrombie & Fitch’s executives, employees and their families. To top it off, we even had an airplane circling overhead, trailing a massive banner that asked: “Is A&F with #TeamRainforest?”
It was around this time that representatives from Abercrombie & Fitch expressed interest in taking an active role to address the risks in its wood-based fabrics. All this hard campaigning paid off over the next year as Abercrombie & Fitch and RAN worked together closely to develop a policy on the sourcing of its wood-based fabric supply chain.
Finally on September, 15 2017, Abercrombie & Fitch officially released its rainforest-free fabric policy. The news received media-fanfare through coverage by Women's Wear Daily, Just Style, and FashionNetwork.com, among others.
This is a great start, but it's only the first step. As we know, true success will depend on Abercrombie & Fitch’s swift implementation of its new policy and the impact for frontline communities and the forest floor. RAN looks forward to our continued work with Abercrombie & Fitch to ensure that its policy creates real change on the ground. Together, let’s celebrate our success and continue to ensure companies follow through on their promises.