Abercrombie & Fitch’s Hijab Blues Is Bad For Business


For Umme-Hani Khan, wearing a hijab is an important expression of her beliefs as Muslim.  A hijab is a veil that covers the face and chest.  The main purpose of wearing the hijab is to project an image of modesty and adherence to the Islamic faith.

To wear the hijab or not is an important decision for a faithful Muslim woman.

The cost for Ms. Khan’s decision to wear the hijab was her job.

In October 2009, Ms. Khan took a position working in the stock room at Abercrombie’s Hollister store unit in San Mateo, California.  She had even interviewed for the position wearing her hijab.  According to court documents, Ms. Khan worked at the store without incident, but approximately five months later, Ms. Khan was fired from her position, because her refusal to not wear her hijab violated the company’s “look policy.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations sued the store for religious discrimination on behalf of Ms. Khan and won in the 9th District.

This isn’t the only “hijab” case filed against the retailer.  In 2008 and 2009, Abercrombie was sued for failing to hire other hijab-wearing plaintiffs.

As William Peacock, Esq., notes in a more recent post on the Findlaw blog:

Religious discrimination, or undue hardship for the store? The retailer’s lawyers argued that the Look Policy is the ‘very heart of [its] business model’ and that exceptions would harm the store. But the court noted that Abercrombie failed to show any evidence, besides unsubstantiated opinion testimony, that making a religious exemption for a color-matched headscarf would harm the company’s bottom line.

I must admit that as a feminist, and a Libertarian one at that, I feel ambivalent about a woman’s choice to wear the hijab, and the form of subjugation it represents to me personally.  Yes, I know I am not a Muslim, true, but I also know that there are many faithful Muslim women who chose not to wear a hijab, for personal or professional reasons, and feel the same way I do.

Still, it astounds me to see that a Muslim woman’s choice to wear a hijab in the workplace be the subject of so much controversy, much less a series of federal cases.  I think there is dignity in a Muslim woman’s decision to wear a hijab.  It is a powerful statement of faith.  I admire the courage of Ms. Khan.

However, it is important to note that when Ms. Khan joined Abercrombie & Fitch, she did accept the “look policy,” which emphasized no headgear while on the floor. Abercrombie wants to disassociate from Muslims, which is their right as a business. That said, it is not necessarily a very good business model.

Abercrombie’s sales are down. This is due to the fact that their customers are favoring more fast-fashion retailers, like H&M and Target. Maybe if Abercrombie focused on these problems, hijab-wearing stock room workers would be the last of their concerns.

Given the economic realities of the current retail marketplace, I’m not “getting” why Abercrombie is so focused on winning these so-called “hijab” cases. Wouldn’t their over-all corporate strategy and their stakeholders be better served if they widened their target market to actively include hijab-wearing customers and lowered their prices?

Sanity, it seems, is beyond “casual luxury.”