Son of a Fitch or How to #FitchTheHomeless Without Being a Douche

I get it. There’s a movement. A big, old, silly and easily doable movement. It’s a movement with a sense of humour, even! It’s fun.

I'm not going to insult his looks, because I don't value people based on their looks. But I'll bet his soul is all shriveled up and smells like that mouse that died in my walls.

Mr. Mike Jeffries, A&F CEO. I’m not going to insult his looks, because I don’t value people based on their looks. But I’ll bet his soul is all shriveled up and smells like that mouse that died in my walls.

A big, old, silly guy, Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, insulted almost everyone last week (well, he insulted you seven years ago, but you just found out about it last week.) He implied that you weren’t cool because the scale shows you three digits or because the first number in your age is not a one or a two. He said he only wanted the cool kids at his table and the truth is that even if you are/were one of the cool kids in school, there are/were probably days when you weren’t and folks picked on your hair or your clothes or your choice of boy band.

And this same jerk who said this also declared that he would rather burn clothes than dilute his brand by giving to charity. You like charity! Charity is that thing that you’re supposed to like! Oh, and his company also uses sweat shop labour, but that’s much less important and we wont talk about it, because that might lead to a discussion on our practice of bargain buying cheap clothes, regardless of the ethics behind it, and we can’t have that. That’s just depressing and this movement is FUN! Super FUN!

Was I just ranting?

Right. Enough ranting. Yesterday I wrote about what this movement implies about the homeless, including myself, so I’m not going to rehash that here. What I am going to do is break down ways this momentum, which is pretty neat, can be used for good. I’ll even include ways you can give your A&F clothes to homeless folks, because I don’t want to poop on your parade.

#fitchthehomeless, Level One
Okay, so you really dig the whole idea of grabbing your A&F clothes and giving them away to homeless people. You want to keep this as simple as possible. You just want to do what the guy in video told you to do. Here’s how to do it without being a douche.

  • Step One: Sort through your clothes and pull out anything that is stained, holey, smelly or in any way icky. If it has fallen out of your wardrobe and into your Saturday or sleep-only pile, pull it out. I wont say nobody wants those clothes, but…nope, nobody wants them. Upcycle them, recycle them or use them as rags and send a picture to A&F, just don’t give them to homeless people.
  • Step Two: Wash the clothes. Please don’t donate dirty clothes. Homeless people don’t know what kind of foot fungus or scabies you may have. Many shelters don’t have the facilities to wash large donations, so wash them and bag them nicely.
  • Step Three: Ask. Before you hand a homeless person a piece of clothing, make sure they want it. Make sure the sizes match. Make sure they aren’t allergic to rayon. Have a conversation. Not everyone needs clothing. Clothing takes up a lot of space and is cumbersome to carry around. When I was homeless, I had three outfits I carried around, because any more would have been pointless. If you are donating to a shelter or charity, make sure they take clothing. Many don’t. Some charities have been posting that they are very willing to take your A&F clothes. Look for those guys. If they do pick-ups, get a few friends together and make a bundle to make it worth the cost and labour of coming around to your house. ASK FIRST. Inform yourself.
  • Step Four: Donate and feel good about yourself.

If you are not willing to do these steps, ask yourself why you’re doing this at all. If your just doing it as a middle finger to A&F, then there are other ways to do it. Get all your normal bodied friends together and do a fashion show in front of their store. Send a letter. Post a video. Return your clothes en masse. Don’t give your clothes to the homeless unless you’re willing to do it in a way that benefits them.

#fitchthehomeless, Level Two
You’re really committed to the idea of both helping the homeless and sticking it to A&F. Heck, this has inspired you to make a difference in the lives of homeless people and, when you’re done donating your clothes, you want to keep going. What can you do to really help? Here are a few suggestions. They are from my own experiences in the group home system and as a homeless teen, so they aren’t universal and the above mentioned ASK rule still applies.

  • Find out what a local group home, shelter or organization really, really needs and throw a F*ck You Fitch, We Love The Homeless party. When I was in care, what we really needed wasn’t clothes, it was consumables – things that got used up quickly with five teenaged girls in the house. Tampons. Shampoo. Soap. Detergent. Toothpaste. Those were the donations that saw the most use. Ask your local shelter what they need and have everyone at your party bring some. Have a glass of wine and toast to yourself because, hey, you did something nice. Then have your designated driver drop it all off. Make sure you know the shelter’s drop off policy because a lot of shelters have really specific security designed to keep abused clients safe from their abusers.
  • Have a Fitch yard sale. Get all your friends together and hold a yard sale of all your A&F clothes. Heck, throw in all the other crap you don’t need too. Sell, sell, sell and then cut a cheque to a help-the-homeless organization. Take all your leftovers to a charity. Money lets an organization buy what they really need. It also lets them buy it in bulk or at a discount, which helps them even more. Yay you!

#fitchthehomeless, Level Awesome
You’re inspired. You want to make lasting change. This little video has motivated you to go beyond Fitching The Homeless (does that sound dirty to anyone else?) and really have an impact. What can you do?

  • Volunteer. Your time is more valuable than you could possibly know. Your old t-shirt might help someone, but actually getting in there and making change? That’s amazing!
  • Buy Fair Trade. If you buy fair trade, you are making sure that the clothes you buy are not made by sweatshop labour. You are making sure that workers make a living wage. A living wage means less homeless people the whole world over. Pay a bit more now and get clothes made ethically.
  • Hire a homeless person. You may not realize it, but most homeless people are invisible. I don’t mean they have super powers, I mean they don’t look homeless. They kinda look just like us, only they’ve lost their job, their home or their way and they need a leg up. It can be really hard to find a job when you don’t have a phone, an address or access to the internet. It’s a problem I faced when I was homeless. A lot of organizations exist that try to help these people find jobs. When I was homeless, I used St. Stephen’s in Toronto. They gave me a voice mail box and helped me connect with employers. If you are an employer, consider contacting a place like St. Stephen’s and letting them know that you are willing to meet with their clients. A job is the best way to help a homeless person.

So there you go. A whole bunch of ways you can #fitchthehomeless without being a douche. Enjoy. Share. Give. Do good. Grab this momentum and make change.

Thanks,
Heather

#FitchTheHomeless or Cool? I Was Freakin’ Freezing!

Greg Karber is a funny man. He has a website full of funny things. Also clever things. He seems to know what a Kōan is, so I’ll give him some props there (it’s like a parable, but more Buddhist.) He’s also the fellow that posted the viral video Abercrombie & Fitch Gets a Brand Readjustment. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch it here:

As you can see, he’s responding to the Salon interview with Mike Jeffries that happened 7 years ago. Like John Lennon’s “Bigger than Jesus” comment, it took a while to percolate into the public consciousness. Now that it’s there, folks are not amused. One of the more noted quotes has Jeffries declaring that “…we go after the cool kids. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

Another tidbit brought up in the video is that rather than donate damaged or unsell-able clothing, A&F burns them. God, I can imagine the smell of the rayon and polybenzimidazole fibers as they fry. Why burn them? Because those in need are certainly not the cool kids. I mean, who has time to do your hair when your running from an abusive spouse? And those who are down on their luck rarely visit the gym!

So, yeah, Jeffries is a snob. He’s a snob and the brand is snobby and we’re probably both cool with the fact that there are no A&F clothes in my closet. They wouldn’t want my chubby, middle-aged butt in their skinny jeans. As for me, I try to buy fair trade or second hand, if I can, and A&F employs the Ha-Meem sweatshop network for some of its manufacturing. I’m pretty sure the teenagers working in their factories are not considered cool kids either.

Clearly Karber agrees that A&F need to be called out on their odd, consumer-unfriendly snobbery. Why hate on the fat kids? The weirdos? Why burn perfectly good clothes rather than help out a human being? Because the brand is king, and this king is really picky about who is allowed in their court.

Which brings us to Karber’s suggestion. Raid your closet, he insists. Raid your neighbour’s closet. Raid the second hand shop. Then donate all those A&F clothes to a homeless shelter.

I have a lot of big hearted friends. I love them for their big old hearts. They spotted a problem with this. The implication here is that homeless people are as un-cool as it gets. The gag only works if the contrast is drastic, if the people he hands the clothing off to are the kind of folks who would be not-so-nicely escorted out of any A&F shop they might enter. Homeless folks are the anti-Abercrombie.

Should I be insulted?

Homeless is not a look. It's not having a home.

Me, when I was homeless. Homeless is not a look. It’s not having a home.

You see, I was homeless for over a year, all told. In that time, I was the cool kid. I was the freaking cold kid. I was the so cold my teeth chattered and my body shook and my tears were welcomed warmth. Canada is not a good place to be homeless. Sometimes people gave me shelter, sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes I had enough to eat, often, I didn’t. Things I never worried about while I was homeless: If my clothes were cool. Clean, yes. Cool, not so much. Though I did love my kicking, hand-me-down Doc Martin boots.

So as a former homeless person (who in no way speaks for all homeless people, ’cause that would be stupid) what do I think of this video?

I think it’s cool that homeless people are getting clothes, though it didn’t really look like he was checking to make sure they’d fit the people he was giving them to. I hope he washed them first. Most second hand stores don’t. A clean change of clothes is a good thing when you’re homeless, so I like the idea of handing out clothes.

As for the recording part, I hope he asked the people first. When I was homeless, I was also avoiding contact with folks who had hurt and abused me. Those people did not know where I was and that was a conscious choice. I was homeless partly because I did not want to be found and nowhere was a safe place to hide.

Outside of just asking permission, I hope he stopped to talk to the people and explain what he was doing. If he had talked to me while I was homeless, I probably would have thought what he was doing was pretty funny. Homeless people are not beyond humour or beyond random acts of anti-consumerism. Hell, many of us were intelligent, politically engaged, well-versed human beings. Also hungry.

So am I offended by the potential implication that homeless people are too ugly, uncool, fringe or poor to wear A&F? Maybe a little. Not so I’d go knock on the fellow’s door and shake my tiny fist at him. I mean, there’s a big bad company that exploits workers, burns rather than donates clothes and pretty much calls me a fat-ass (I’m paraphrasing.) I think I’d rather be pissed at them.

And as to Karber, he seems smart enough to see this as part of a conversation. Was his video tactless? Yes. Being homeless sucks! It’s really, really horrible. It’s devastating and soul-destroying and no matter how comfortable your life gets after being homeless, you will never feel safe again, because you know what the world is like outside of the safety bubble of home. This video means people are talking about it. Maybe they’re even donating clothes. Is it a perfect message? No. But it’s part of a conversation we need to have about big corporations, billion dollar CEOs and homeless kids who are happy to have another layer, because, damn, it’s cold out there.