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Abercrombie & Fitch link to Christian band draws fire

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A popular Christian rock band’s decision to partner with Abercrombie & Fitch has drawn criticism from conservative family values groups who accuse the worldwide retail chain of promoting pornography.

Pop-rock group Relient K announced via a news release from its Gotee Records label that its music will be used for in-store videos as well as the abercrombiekids.com website. Billed as a “first-ever exclusive partnership with a band”, Abercrombie & Fitch will launch a massive multimedia campaign with Relient K on Nov. 2.

“I’m excited for the opportunity that is being afforded to Relient K and I’m extremely appreciative of Abercrombie & Fitch for the exclusive exposure they’re giving to the band,” said Gotee Records President Joey Elwood. “Hopefully, through this, Relient K will be able to begin making their thumbprint on our culture.”

However, Bill Johnson, president of American Decency Association, and a vocal critic of Abercrombie & Fitch, said Relient K is making a mistake.

“I am very disappointed and very troubled that a Christian band or any group of people that are naming the name of Jesus Christ in their music and ministry would in any regard feel comfortable aligning themselves with a corporation so blatant in targeting our youth through sexually erotic images,” Johnson told Baptist Press. “It is very troubling to me. I for one will be urging people not to purchase their records. They have made a serious error.”

Abercrombie & Fitch is known for their controversial advertising campaigns and clothing catalogues that feature barely clad models in suggestive poses. The apparel retailer recently announced it canceled the holiday version of its catalogue because company executives deemed the content and tone inappropriate in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The catalogue will resume publication in January.

Joe Gibbs, NASCAR team owner and former coach of the Washington Redskins, has added his voice to family groups protesting the clothing retailer.

“I am appalled at your efforts to market clothing by using sexually suggestive photographs and an obvious promotion of gratuitous sexual behavior and promiscuity,” Gibbs said in a letter to A&F chairman Michael Jeffries.

Gibbs said he would enlist the support of the 500,000-member Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Youth Life, an organization of more than 1 million young people and their adult sponsors to “get the message out about your disgusting marketing.”

Bob Smithouser, editor of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In, said he, too, was disappointed in news of Relient K’s partnership with Abercrombie & Fitch.

“I think the issue here is about confusing young people,” Smithouser said. “The Christian teen audience knows what Relient K stands for, and when they see the band is connected with Abercrombie & Fitch, then they think that Abercrombie & Fitch must be all right.

“A lot of parents will be so disappointed in Relient K’s judgment,” Smithouser added. “I am reluctant to get kids jazzed about Relient K and that’s a shame.”

Wendy Wright, director of communication for Concerned Women of America, said the band’s label should shoulder some of the responsibility.

“Their label has done a tremendous disservice to this band by not considering how they are mixing the Christian message with pornographic images that are shown at Abercrombie & Fitch stores and catalogues,” Wright told Baptist Press. “They should pull the music videos from their stores unless they want to run a disclaimer saying the band does not agree with Abercrombie & Fitch’s pornographic promotions.”

Gotee’s Elwood said he understands the concern about Abercrombie & Fitch, but considers the opportunity to be an outreach for the band.

“I was impressed that they wanted a band with positive lyrics,” Elwood said. “For me, it’s no different than us putting our books, music and magazines in other stores that are selling materials we consider inappropriate. We know people are coming into these stores and we want to offer them an option.”

Elwood said the partnership does not involve money. “The band isn’t making any money off of this,” he said. “We just wanted to have some positive music playing in those stores. We wanted to walk into a domain where kids are going.”

Elwood said the band members were informed about the partnership and were excited about the opportunity. “We were real careful with how our music was used,” he said. “The music video is basically mountain biking. There’s no typical Abercrombie stuff in there.

“It’s a tough line,” Elwood added. “You have to decide how to walk into those situations.”

Johnson wondered if Abercrombie & Fitch was using Relient K for another reason.

“Clearly, Abercrombie & Fitch are savvy and tricky,” he said. “I don’t think they would hesitate to try to bring some controversy among Christian ranks by trying to find that one group that names the name of Christ in their music that would stand together with them in such a fashion.”

Elwood said he wants to be held accountable if his decision was wrong. “We just want to be salt and light in the world,” he said. “I don’t want to be a man who does not accept responsibility. That’s how I pose it. This was my thinking. It wasn’t to be rebellious.”

Wright said she doesn’t question the band’s heart for ministry.

“We are firm believers in evangelism and we like the idea of trying to reach a broad audience,” Wright said. “However, in this case, it’s a mixed message. The assumption that a young person could easily come to is that you can be a Christian and promote pornography and be involved in pornography.”

“I’m glad the label is looking to be salt and light but they need to use a little wisdom and discernment,” Wright added. “Jesus tried to reach people one-on-one. A video of people mountain biking is not the same thing.”

Elwood stressed that if the label has done something wrong, he wants to correct it.

“As Christian business people, we made this decision to put ourselves in a secular situation, but to walk with Christ,” he said. “I feel like we are being consistent with that call. If not, then we will change that action.”

    About the Author

  • Todd Starnes