REAL talk on American Eagle

A favorite brand of mine is American Eagle. Although I initially started shopping there simply because I liked their style of clothing, I began to really admire and respect them as an organization earlier this year. As many of you probably know, they launched a campaign for their underwear line, aerie, whereby they committed to using only authentic photos of their models, as opposed to editing and retouching them as is traditional. They describe the rationale behind their campaign on their website:

“We support real young women, not the airbrushed, unrealistic versions of what they’re told they should look like. We launched the aerie REAL campaign for our Spring 2014 line to bring this support to life. Our photographs of the aerie line feature un-retouched models and challenge the outdated ad campaign handbook. We understand that the media impacts young women, influencing how they see themselves, their bodies and their futures. Encouraging a positive self-image is one way aerie supports ongoing wellness. It’s time to feature beautiful images that reflect all realities.”

I think that, especially being in the fashion industry, and more specifically as a lingerie retailer, it was a very bold and positive initiative, and it’s one that I think a lot of customers responded strongly to. They’re encouraging all women to embrace their shape and then they provide means to enhance that shape through their clothes. Tackling issues of body image and dysmorphia is a big challenge (unless you choose to alienate those most prone to these issues, of course, as Abercrombie notoriously did) and one that is not the explicit responsibility of an apparel retailer to their customers. Launching this campaign positioned American Eagle as a leader in true customer care; a company who exceeds expectations to champion the emotional and psychological well-being of their customers, in addition to simply supplying them a product.

That’s why I thought of American Eagle when I saw this prompt. I decided to dig deeper into their corporate policies to see if they’re socially responsible in other ways as well. What I found was very encouraging. They have a link on their online retail site to “AE Better World,” which includes detailed breakdowns of the many ways they strive to improve the complex global community they interact with. They discuss their efforts related to their supply chain, the environment, community, fairness and equality, and health and wellness, and go into detail about each partnership, program, and standard. They’re also quite transparent and honest about their supply chain in particular, since they do outsource their manufacturing. They even posted a recent non-compliance report graphic that shows quite a bit of underperformance in many of their factories relative to the standards they outline, but then explain why these standards are so difficult to achieve and state their commitment to improving. Overall, I was really impressed by the breadth of their perspective of corporate responsibility and their clear implementation of the stakeholder mindset. But I decided to try to seek out some disconfirming information elsewhere, just to see if they were really as upstanding as they seem to be.

I didn’t uncover much in my search for “scandals,” but I did find one troubling document from 2008. An organization called Sweatshop Watch published a document entitled the “Sweatshop Hall of Shame” that “inducted” American Eagle for failing to enforce its Code of Conduct regarding employee rights to unionization and urged customers to boycott the company by joining the “American Vulture” organization. Although this is certainly an important point of concern, I think it’s also important to emphasize that it was published six years ago. Judging by the breadth and depth of their current “AEO Better World” site and the fact that I could not uncover any further transgressions in my research, I think it’s reasonable to deduce that this is probably an event that triggered the company to strengthen their commitment to upholding a variety of stakeholder interests, and I think if anything it is a positive indicator of sensitivity to their stakeholders and a willingness to change in order to satisfy them.

Overall, I think American Eagle has a very strong structure in place for corporate responsibility. I think they are currently trying to create value for its stakeholders in myriad, diverse, and innovative ways that will really strengthen their reputation as a principled, benevolent business while simultaneously bolstering its commercial and financial success. The aerie REAL campaign is a marked manifestation of that, and I as a customer can attest to its value.


6 responses to “REAL talk on American Eagle

  1. I think that a unique aspect of American Eagle is their focus on customers when dealing with their stakeholder policy. I think that it is very common for companies to address manufacturers and the producers when referring to their policies on stakeholders, but they forget that customers are stakeholders as well. With their policy of using unaltered model photos I think that American Eagle is creating an immeasurable value for their customers: self-confidence and acceptance.


    • I agree. The value that AE creates for its customers by embarking on such a campaign is both immeasurable and incredibly important. I believe more companies should take a look at their respective industries to determine a particular issue where they could make a positive difference. If all industries could be strengthened, even in a small way, we would be the beneficiaries. The problem is that not all companies can see it that way.


  2. I recall hearing about the Aerie decision in the news. Although I am not in the Aerie demographic, I think it is a good move because it portrays real women with healthy bodies. Also, I commend you for finding a dissenting source because of course the AEO website is going to cast everything in a positive light. The Canadian labor violations listed in the attached document were a little disconcerting, but on the whole it seems like they are doing well and actively working on improving..


  3. I agree that it is great that they are really trying to increase value to their consumers as one of their key stakeholders. After reading many of the blog posts, is seems like more companies focus on the manufactures and monitoring working conditions are key concerns. While Obviously these are important and great, providing value for the consumers can cause a great impact as well. Also I found it interesting because having “real women” model for American Eagle was probably also cheaper than paying for models. In this effort of socially responsibility the companies most likely saved money, while also adding good publicity, a buzz worthy advertisement, and created value for consumers. Why don’t more companies do this?


    • I also thought it was quite commendable that American Eagle had this campaign using real women as their models, as it promoted a healthy self-image for women. As a result, this strengthened their relationship with their customers. In contrast, the company that I wrote about was Lululemon which has been under fire ever since their see-through pants scandal. Their reaction to this was to place the blame on their customers’ bodies and the result could not have been worse. They completely alienated many of their customers, while American Eagle represents the ideal. These actions can have profound affects on customers and either strengthen or weaken the stakeholder relationship.


  4. Pingback: Blog Council: Our Favorite Companies | Stakeholders:Uncensored·

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