Abercrombie & Snitch: Former CEO Accused of Sex Trafficking in Lawsuit
If you were a normal person in the 2000s with fewer than eight visible abs and cheekbones that couldn't be used to cut denim, chances are you never felt quite at home in Abercrombie & Fitch. The music was loud and abrasive. Gigantic pictures of gorgeous men and women looked down on you while you browsed. The scent of bad cologne hung heavy in the air. Even the changing rooms seemed to tell you that you weren't pretty enough to be there.
All that was by design at the hands of Michael S. Jeffries, the man who took over as CEO of the then-struggling clothing company in 1992. He was one of those CEOs who defined the brand, so wrapped up in the fabric of the place that cutting him out would've left a him-shaped hole in the company itself. Jeffries was the guy who brought Abercrombie back from the dead, the one who hung around making sure that every store, every poster, every employee was as close to perfect as possible. If you weren't pretty, he didn't want you to buy his clothes, let alone work for him.
Jeffries was an iconoclast in the church of overpriced shirts and board shorts adorned with ragged holes. He was the key to Abercrombie's success, and, if a lawsuit filed at the end of October 2023 is to be believed, a sexual predator of epic proportions.
The Business Model of the Model Business
The lawsuit in question was filed as an individual and civil class action against Jeffries, Matthew Smith, the Jeffries Family Office, and Abercrombie itself. The individual plaintiff is a man named David Bradberry, a former aspiring Abercrombie model who alleges he was sexually assaulted and coercively sex trafficked by Jeffries with the explicit and knowing assistance of Abercrombie & Fitch. The plaintiff class is composed of men who, like Bradberry, were forced into sexual encounters with Jeffries and other men on the promise of being allowed to model for Abercrombie.
According to the lawsuit, Jeffries was both more and less than a businessman. From the day he joined Abercrombie in 1992, Jeffries' vision for the brand was one of hypersexualization, with a clear emphasis on attractive young men who looked down on customers from the walls and smoldered silently from the sides of Abercrombie bags.
Jeffries wanted to push the envelope, to transform the Abercrombie brand into something exclusive to the most beautiful young men and women. His approach was hands-on to a fault, but it worked. Abercrombie started making money. A lot of it. So much, in fact, that Abercrombie gave him carte blanche authority to do whatever he pleased as CEO.
If the facts alleged in the lawsuit are true, boy did he take that to heart.
A Model Predator
The picture that Bradberry and his attorneys paint would make Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein jealous.
Jeffries had scouts scour the internet and every other source imaginable for every attractive young man they could find. They then send out requests to meet the ones that tickled their respective fancies. The scouts would allegedly have the would-be models come to meet them in person, make them disrobe, and then effectively force them to perform sex acts on the scouts. It was just part of the game, apparently. It was just what you had to do if you wanted to be an Abercrombie model.
If the scouts saw "potential" in the young men, they'd be sent to the Jeffries estate, where they'd meet with Jeffries and his partner and co-defendant Matthew Smith. The aspiring models would then be forced to undergo their next set of "interviews." And if they were really "lucky," they'd get to fly out to places like New York, Morocco, England, or France, where they'd attend parties with Jeffries' friends and, in due course, be forced to engage in sexual acts with them as well.
The young men were led to believe that being sexually abused was simply the price they had to pay to get a job modeling for Abercrombie. Some did. Others were fooled into thinking that these were official Abercrombie interviews because, as far as the company was concerned, they were. Everyone at the Jeffries estate was clad in Abercrombie clothes – staff and guests alike – and Abercrombie itself allegedly paid for all of their travel expenses.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that Abercrombie also knew that "Jeffries, while acting in the course and scope of his employment and on behalf of the company, used means of force, threats of force, fraud, abuse of legal process, exploitation of power disparity, and a variety of other forms of fraud and coercion to cause young men to engage in commercial sex acts. Knowing that it would earn millions of dollars in exchange for facilitating Jeffries' sex abuse and trafficking …"
If the Weird Canvas Shoe Fits ...
Bradberry and the associated class allege that Jeffries victimized dozens of young men who wanted nothing more than to model. If Abercrombie, as alleged, was fully aware and even supportive of Jeffries' alleged crimes, that means the company turned a blind eye toward sex trafficking. If one were to ask society as a whole how much profit Jeffries would have to generate to excuse his actions, society would say that there is no such amount. But if Abercrombie did indeed allow and even assist Jeffries in his crimes, that strongly implies they ran the numbers and gave the green light anyway.
The case has a long way to go before a jury determines what, if anything, Abercrombie & Fitch knew and when they knew it, so it's anyone's guess how it will turn out in the end. If the lawsuit is based on fact, Bradberry and the plaintiff class could see a significant award for damages.
It remains a civil lawsuit, at least for now. No related criminal charges have been filed against Jeffries, Smith, or any other Abercrombie & Fitch employees.
- What Can You Do About Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Harassment? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Sexual Assault Overview (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Sexual Assault Sentencing and Penalties (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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