White Hot Blasts Abercrombie’s Dirty Laundry

The documentary unearths the brand’s intricate scandals.


PHOTO COURTESY/ Youtube Netflix 

Netflix’s newest documentary “White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch,” exposes details of the infamous retailer’s racist and unethical practices. Released on Apr. 19, 2022 and directed by independent filmmaker Alison Klayman, the film dives deep into the hot scandals which almost extinguished Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F). 

In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Abercrombie and Fitch was the favorite stop of mall shoppers. Topped with dark shutters, pictures of shirtless male models and potent cologne, young people believed the clothes signified popularity and status. Its CEO, Mike Jeffries, believed in an ‘All-American’ persona which drew in consumers. Over time, reports of discriminatory practices and exclusionary marketing enveloped the brand in scandal. With the personal accounts of former employees, models, recruiters and top officers, “White Hot” explains the intricate history of A&F. 

The documentary captures various large scandals that hit the brand, beginning with their infamous graphic tees. The shirts were the brand’s personality, and featured irreverent sayings that mocked the Asian and Latinx communities. One shirt had the slogan, “Juan more for the road,” while another one depicted the “Wong brothers” who owned a fictional laundromat. “Two Wongs can make it white” appeared at the bottom. These shirts alone sparked protests around the country. 

PHOTO COURTESY/ Youtube Netflix

The film depicts the company’s discriminatory recruiting process, where recruiters were directed to hire “good-looking people,” and had a word-for-word book telling recruiters who to hire. They specifically targeted popular frat guys, who they believed would inspire others to wear A&F exclusively.

Once an employee was hired, there was no promise they would be kept. Managers weekly ranked employees from ‘cool to rocks’. If you weren’t deemed cool, you were quietly fired. This experience happened to Carla Barrientos. Her manager scheduled her for night shifts and relegated her to window washing in the back of the store. “The marketing doesn’t look like me at all,” she said in the documentary. “The employees that worked there don’t look like me, something is going on.” 

Learning about A&F’s eye-opening scandals speaks to the larger conversation of brands’ exclusionary and racist tactics. However, I wished to go deeper into the exposé. 

The story of Abercrombie’s rise and fall may be a fascinating one,” Jade Budowski of Decider agrees, “but White Hot fails to probe below the surface, leaving us with something superficial and unable to understand why things crashed and burned the way they did.”

The end should not have been so uplifting. It felt like the culture issues within A&F were seemingly erased from the industry, when these practices still exist in brands such as Brandy Melville, who only carry clothes in a size small and hire girls who fit the “Brandy Melville look.” 

If there is one takeaway from “White Hot,” it’s to look into the hiring and marketing practices of your favorite brands. See how they react in turmoil and research their core values, and maybe your favorite retailer will surprise you.