Abercrombie Forced to Apologize

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Pitted against consumer outrage over controversial comments its CEO made seven years ago about why the teen retailer doesn't make its clothing in large sizes, Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) issued an apology this week and pledged to take steps to show their commitment against bullying as well a more welcoming store culture.

The apology was in response to an online petition on Change.org that has garnered as of press time 70,000 signatures since May 8 calling for Abercrombie's CEO Mike Jeffries to apologize for comments made to Salon.com in 2006, but that recently resurfaced.

"We welcomed the opportunity to meet with Cali Linstrom, Benjamin O'Keefe, Darryl Roberts of America the Beautiful Teen Empowerment Series and Lynn Grefe, President & CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association to learn about the work they are doing. We look forward to continuing this dialogue and taking concrete steps to demonstrate our commitment to anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion," Abercrombie said.

"We want to reiterate that we sincerely regret and apologize for any offense caused by comments we have made in the past which are contrary to these values," Abercrombie said in a statement issued Tuesday by online petition platform Change.org.

Jeffries' comments, which were meant to talk about niche marketing rather than body image, detailed that the retailer wanted only the "cool," "good-looking" kids to wear its clothes, which apparently doesn't apply to people who wear larger than a size 10. The petition also called for stores to start carrying XL and XXL sizes for customers.

The move didn't really move Abercrombie shares. The stock closed down 0.2% on Wednesday to $54.11.

The petition was created by Benjamin O'Keefe, 18, of Orlando, Fla., who describes himself as an actor, filmmaker and activist. According to the Change.org press release, he is also a survivor of an eating disorder.

O'Keefe, along with advocates from the National Eating Disorder Association met with company executives at Abercrombie's headquarters in New Albany, Ohio on Tuesday to deliver the signatures and to discuss the online consumer outrage sparked by the CEO's controversial comments.

O'Keefe started his petition after reading the now infamous comments that resurfaced this month from a Business Insider article that questioned why the company still won't offer large size clothing, even after its competitor, H&M, decided to use a "plus-sized model" to show its swimwear this spring.

The article sparked two separate responses that each went viral -- a heartfelt open letter by a marketing executive to Jeffries as well as one angry consumer to donate Abercrombie clothes to the homeless in a YouTube video.

O'Keefe said he's optimistic that Abercrombie will create a consumer culture that is open to all.

"I took my petition and the voices of 68,000 people from across the globe who added their names to Abercrombie & Fitch's headquarters, demanding an apology and a plan from the company to map a way forward where all young customers feel welcome and embraced at their stores," O'Keefe said in a statement in the Change.org release. "I'm happy to hear that Abercrombie took my passion and your voices to heart in this meeting and plans to take concrete steps to show their support for diversity and inclusion."

An Abercrombie spokesman wasn't immediately available on Wednesday.

"I will continue these conversations with their executive staff to share our concerns with them to make sure that consumers see those changes implemented in their local Abercrombie store," O'Keefe added. "When the voices of many come together to amplify something they believe in, change does come!"

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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