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Published: Saturday, 11/5/2005

Bawdy T-shirts set off 'girlcott' against Abercrombie & Fitch


PITTSBURGH - Perhaps the T-shirt could read: "Who needs demeaning apparel when you have the brains to turn a local protest into a national cause celebre?"

That's just a suggestion to a group of girls who have created a news media maelstrom with their campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch's "attitude T-shirts," which the girls say are demeaning to young women.

One of the offending shirts reads: "Who needs brains when you have these?"

Another states: "Blondes Are Adored, Brunettes Are Ignored."

The two dozen or so girls, participants in the Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers program, are calling for a "girlcott" of Abercrombie & Fitch stores until the targeted shirts are no longer sold. Girls as Grantmakers is a two-year program in which girls discuss and explore ways to make a difference in the community by reviewing and funding grant proposals designed by peers.

Their protest landed the group's co-chairman, Emma Blackman-Mathis, on NBC's Today with Katie Couric, on Fox's Hannity & Colmes, and on CNN this week. CNN will be in Pittsburgh this weekend to do a larger segment on the girls.

In Toledo, the Abercrombie & Fitch store manager at Westfield Franklin Park referred all press questions to the national public relations office. Telephone calls made to that office were not returned.

The protest began Sunday with a news conference and rally. The girls in the grant-making program also began e-mailing their friends who in turn e-mailed more friends.

"What these girls are saying is we would be happy to shop at your store, but we want you to sell smarter clothing and clothing that doesn't demean your customer base," said Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, one of the Grantmakers program's funders and overseers.

"We've gotten a lot of responses from girls across the country asking how they can get involved starting things in their schools and in their cities," Blackman-Mathis said.

In addition to encouraging young women not to buy the controversial shirts, the Grantmakers girls are asking those who agree with their stance to contact Abercrombie & Fitch "to let them know that girls don't think the T-shirts are cool anymore," Arnet said.

The retailer, which did not return calls seeking comment, released a two-sentence statement:

"Our clothing appeals to a wide variety of customers. These particular T-shirts have been very popular among adult women to whom they are marketed."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Monica Haynes is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.

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