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For Everyone Bitching About Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie and Fitch

ambercrombie jeffriesAs of late, the brand really should be called Abercrombie & Bitch. I actually really like the spoof tee I’ve featured here. But I digress.

I’ve had a metric shit ton of people send me articles that are discussing Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, and his stance on who he wants wearing his company’s clothes. People seem to think his stance is something new when he made his opinions clear back in 2006 in an interview to Salon magazine:

As far as Jeffries is concerned, America’s unattractive, overweight or otherwise undesirable teens can shop elsewhere. “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

So — what do I really think about Mr. Jeffries and his admittedly exclusionary marketing practices?

First, remember that I wrote a branding book called The Power of Unpopular.

Secondly, watch the video. If you’re on the fence as to whether or not you have 4 minutes to spare, I do grab my tits in this one.

And — with no shame, I ask: have you subscribed to my YouTube channel? You can do that here.

Nine Awesomely Unpopular People from History

“It builds character.”

…said every parent or adult trying to comfort a teen or young adult trying to cope with being unpopular.

“Boy, you have a valid point and I shouldn’t care what other people think of me.”

…said no teen ever.

Today, parents, I’m giving you the gift of a list. A list that will prove to your son or daughter that, yeah, it can suck to be unpopular, but look at the things you might just accomplish by doing things the unpopular way.

ada lovelaceAda Lovelace. Man, do I have a lady crush on this woman. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Yes, she was Lord Byron’s daughter. Yes, she was married to an aristocrat. Yes, her name is perfect for a 1950’s pulp spy novel. But you know what she really did? She only came up with the first computer program ever written…in the mid 1800s! That’s right, this woman was the original lady hacker. Unfortunately, because she was blessed with a uterus, she found it hard to be taken seriously by her contemporaries.

 

 

 

Henrietta_LacksHenrietta Lacks. OK, so she didn’t change the world as much as her cancer cells did after she passed away. For some reason, this woman’s cells never stopped reproducing even after she died. No kidding. It sounds like something straight out of X-Men, I know, but these cells are STILL alive in research labs around the world today. HeLa cells (because scientists like to shorten everything) have helped researchers develop the Polio vaccine, test cancer treatments, and develop treatments towards managing various infections. So why didn’t we ever hear of this woman before? Well, she was black in 1951. She passed away in the “black wing” of a hospital and doctors never even obtained permission from her family to take samples and run experiments on her after her death. In fact, it was decades before her family even found out about HeLa cells.

 

Gregor MendelGregor Mendel. Chances are that you probably studied Mendel in high school science class. But since it was high school science class, you were probably either asleep or doodling on your Trapper Keeper to pass the time. Mendel pioneered genetics before it even had the name “genetics” attached. Oh, and he was a monk AND a scientist. He developed the “Laws of Mendelian Inheritance” that explains genetic inheritance in most plants and animals. However, his findings completely conflicted with how science thought inheritance worked at the time, so he was completely disregarded as a whack job. Oh, how time can change things…

 

 

SamuelMuddSamuel Mudd. This guy. I’m fairly certain that most people haven’t heard of this guy. As far as human beings go, he was kind of an ass. He was outspokenly pro-slavery and anti-Lincoln (yeah, Abraham). He was sent to life in prison after being convicted of conspiring in the assassination of President Lincoln when he set John Wilkes-Booth’s leg after he broke it during the assassination. But here’s where it gets… different. While he was in prison, there was an outbreak of yellow fever and after the prison doctor contracted the fever and died, Mudd stepped up and took over. He treated both the guards and the prisoners equally and pretty much stopped the epidemic. This guy is definitely a head scratcher of a person and he was certainly a very unpopular human, but he held to his ethics and his code of conduct as a doctor, even through prison.

 

jane-austen-portraitJane Austen. That’s right, guys. The alliterative author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice was not very popular during her life. But not because she was a jerk or anything — she was unpopular because she was unknown. All of her work that was published during her lifetime was attributed to “Anonymous Lady.” People totally loved her stuff, but she really didn’t care. She was all, “Here’s this awesome literature. Don’t you dare put my name on it.” It was only after her death that she was given credit where credit was due.

 

 

ashokAshok Gadgil. Gesundheit! Sure, his name doesn’t roll off your tongue like John or Bear Blu, but this inventor has and still is changing lives in third world countries. He invented a UV light that allows people to quickly and cheaply disinfect their water supply, as well as a highly efficient wood-burning stove that makes it so that women in Darfur don’t have to spend days out of every month gathering wood in war-torn danger zones of their country. So why haven’t we heard of this guy? Well, to put it bluntly, his work is boring and it’s not commercial. He’s not sending out press releases letting everyone know how much good he’s doing for the world. He’s just plain doing it. And apparently if you don’t care about your image when doing charity work for the Third World, no one cares back.

 

Vasili_ArkhipovVasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov. Vasili single-handedly saved the world and prevented World War III. (I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty impressed.) On October 27, 1962, he was a Soviet naval officer on board a nuclear submarine, which was under attack by the U.S. Navy in waters near Cuba. The Soviet government authorized the officers on the submarine to launch a nuclear missile, but only if the three officers aboard agreed unanimously to do so. The other two officers, who outranked Vasili, voted to launch, knowing that it would start a worldwide nuclear war. Vasili voted not to. Instead, the submarine surfaced and surrendered (risking the lives of everyone aboard), the Cuban Missile crisis began, and the world continued to exist.  This man voted against the wishes of his government and his superior officers, and risked his own life and those of everyone on board his submarine, and he refused to fight back when attacked—all because saving the entire human race was higher on his priority list.

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla.  Tesla’s inventions and theories are largely responsible for wireless technology, alternating current electricity, electronic devices, and radio communications as we know them today. He was a great inventor and theorist.  Tesla came into conflict with Thomas Edison, who was very good at being popular, marketing his inventions, and discrediting anyone he didn’t like. Tesla also, as The Oatmeal puts it, “suffered from a disorder we now commonly refer to as ‘being batshit insane.'”His mental illness made him unable to socialize, promote himself, or fit in well with regular society. He also swore off dating or sex in order to focus more fully on his scientific research. Poor Tesla died alone, penniless, and confused. He’s becoming a very popular icon for steampunk enthusiasts, science lovers, and fans of underdogs, but only today.

 

Captain_Silas_SouleCaptain Silas Soule. Soule was born into a family of Civil War-era abolitionists, and from an early age participated in many revolutionary activities in support of racial justice (including helping with the Underground Railroad and trying to spring John Brown from prison), but he is most famous for his actions surrounding the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. By then, Soule was a Captain in the U.S. Cavalry. On November 29, 1864, Soule’s commanding officer, Colonel John Chivington, ordered him (and 700 other soldiers) to attack a village of Cheyenne and Arapahoe camped by Sand Creek. The villagers were peaceful, mostly women, children, and old men—including chiefs who were trying to negotiate a peace treaty with the U.S. The village was flying an American flag as a sign of goodwill. Soule argued against the attack, but Chivington ordered it, anyway. Between 70 and 163 native Americans were killed and mutilated, the soldiers taking trophies (scalps, fingers, ears, genitalia) from the bodies. Soule disobeyed Chivington’s orders and told the troops under his command not to attack. Soule and his company were unable to stop the massacre, but they did not participate, and some historians believe they actually helped some villagers to escape. Soule later blew the whistle on Chivington, and testified against him in court. During the court investigations, mobs outside chanted, “Stand by Sand Creek!” and Chivington and his followers dragged Soule’s name through the mud, testifying that Soule was a drunk and a coward. Soule was cleared of these charges, but he was widely hated and multiple attempts were made on his life. On April 23, 1965, Soule was murdered in broad daylight on the corner of 15th Avenue and Arapahoe Street in Denver. His killer was arrested, but allowed to escape, and never heard from again. Soule was 26 years old, and had been married for 22 days.

Sooooo…unpopular today? It’s not necessarily going to be what your classmates think of you, your glasses, your jeans, or your looks that matters down the line. The above people accomplished some pretty amazing things and guaranteed – people thought they were nuts. Or in some cases, unremarkable. But they did what they did with passion. And remember Henrietta Lacks?  She might have been what some would consider unremarkable in her lifetime, but she made history in 2010 and became the subject of a New York Times bestseller when a writer decided to share her “unremarkable” story with the world. An amazing story, an amazing woman…and instead of worrying about your story today, wouldn’t it be better to think about the story people might tell about you for being brave enough to follow your own, perhaps unpopular, path?

How William Shatner Saved My Life and Other Lessons Learned Over a Vodka Tonic

buell theatre denver shatner's worldI stood on my deck last night at 10PM gazing up at the stars. Orion’s belt was to the West and surrounded by a gazillion twinkling points of light, reminding me of how criminally lucky I am to live in Colorado. It was kinda like a galactic Tour of Lights at Christmastime. It also reminded me that my Christmas tree was laying by the back gate in desperate need of disposal/mulching/beaming up to another planet.

Not an hour before, I’d sat in the Buell Theatre here in Denver with tears in my eyes, watching a show with a similar backdrop as the night sky draped above me. The day coming to a close was the official release date of my first book. But incredibly, that wasn’t the most memorable part of my day.

What I’ll remember most is that William Shatner made me cry.

Commence Overpriced Vodka Drink Sequence

Along with my friend Mary, I walked into The Buell last night with tickets in hand to see Shatner’s World. A long-time fan of his spoken word albums and viewer of every episode featuring Captain James T. Kirk ever made, how in the world could I miss this? It’s William. Fucking. Shatner, for all that’s holy. After a glance by the bar that netted us each a vodka tonic plastic cup filled with ice, lime, and tonic with vodka flavoring, we took our seats. We were 19 rows back from center stage and had I suffered from Marfan Syndrome, it’s possible I could have reached out and touched him.

I took a moment and looked around — the theatre was full. People of all ages. Guys with guys. Gals with gals. Couples. Kids, even.

They were all here to see William. Fucking. Shatner. And that made me smile.

The lights dimmed, the laughter began to roll, and nearly two hours later I had cried not just once, but twice.

Captain James T. Kirk Isn’t Supposed to Make Me Cry

First, he’s 80-years-old. Yeah, you read that right. 80. So what’s your excuse for not getting out there and living a life that you’re going to love when you’re 80? You don’t have one. So knock it off with the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas. I sat for two hours and listened to Captain James T. Kirk tell stories about his life. The exhilaration of playing hooky to catch burlesque shows, how he understudied for Christopher Plummer in Henry V and got to go on at a moment’s notice in the largest speaking role in classical theatre…

But what I didn’t know in all of my Star Trek nerdery is that Star Trek only ran for three years. A mere three.

The Simpsons has run for twenty-three seasons and American Idol for nine. And then came the first time Captain Kirk made me cry.

In a wildly animated sequent recounting the Star Trek years and the recording of a documentary called The Captains, he’s describing a moment where he’s interviewing Patrick Stewart. Also a classically trained Shakespearean actor, Stewart’s talking about the roles he’s played on the British stage and then comes to his role as Captain Picard. And he simply states that, if he died at that very moment, it’s likely he’d be remembered not for all of the incredibly important and acclaimed performances of his classic stage career, but as Captain Picard. And that was okay.

Shatner got this look on his face and yes, he stammered a reply to Stewart. One of thanks. As Shatner felt he’d been given a gift at that very moment, as he’d realized that if he were never remembered as anything but Captain James T. Kirk, it would be okay, too.

What’s Okay With You?

So I cried — as it occurred to me at that very moment that this was what the unpopular path was all about. It was a moment I shared with hundreds of other people in a sold-out theatre in Denver, Colorado. My moment of asking, “What will you be okay with, Erika?” I was sitting 19 rows away from a man who was told by his father that he didn’t want his son pursuing an acting career, as he’d only ever be a “hanger-on.” And had he listened to his father, what would our culture be today?

What would my yesterday have been, never having seen his one-man opus?

And for anyone reading this post or reading the book who’s ever feared that something might fail, that they might have the vicious point of an I-told-you-so pointed in their direction, who feared pissing someone off — all on account of taking the leap to pursue what you love.

Captain James T. Kirk says to shut the hell up.

I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed seeing someone you admire in the act of doing what they love — but last night, I did. And that’s what’s okay with me — living a life doing what I love, as that theatre full of people was evidence that it’s possible. And not just possible, but probable for each of us to achieve.

And Then Captain Kirk Makes Me Cry. AGAIN.

Here’s the part where I get to insert that in two hours of showtime, Shatner dropped more f-bombs than I did in the whole book (to which many of you have already expressed disappointment). But that’s not how he scored a second cry out of me on what was one of the best days of my life. Captain Kirk started riffing on love.

The nerve, right?

Its power. The ability of love to fuel whatever it is we need to achieve, conquer, overcome, get through. How it makes us feel.

Watching love in motion — that’s what I saw last night. Shatner took me on a two-hour journey that on the surface might appear as a narrative on his life and career and all of the funny things that happen on the way to the forum. But underneath, it was one giant story about love. You saw him light up, his step get a bit lighter, when he talked about being on stage. How he felt when he saw the original pilot for Star Trek. His unfathomable loss when he came home one day to find his wife dead. The wings his heart grew when he met his now-wife of 12 years. The sense of humor he kept through it all. From the day his father offered a safety net of shelter should his pursuit of the hanger-on lifestyle not pan out to the moment he stepped foot on a stage in Denver, Colorado on March 20, 2012.

Captain James T. Kirk made me cry because I realized that everything I believe about love is true.

On the day of the book launch in Austin just over a week ago, I was asked by a man in the audience: What keeps you awake at 4 in the morning?

My answer was love. For my audience, friends, and family. The people in my life who are honest with me and in turn keep me honest. The love I feel when I remember the day I walked away from corporate America’s crazy payday to pursue my Must. Such an unpopular decision, but I chose to leave what was for me an unlikable path and get on one that would leave me at age 80 saying, “This is okay.”

And When the Vodka is Gone…

The curtain comes down — but not before you see Shatner with a closed-lip smile staring up at a screen filled with images from his vast career flashing by. We laugh, we offer a standing ovation. I spent two hours feeling. Two hours entertained by someone who made me feel something.

And that’s what unpopular brands do — they make us feel. We don’t like to care or admit that we do, but William. Fucking. Shatner made me feel and goddamn him for making me cry. I actually cried three times but I’m not telling you about the third — you’ll have to see the show for yourself.

So if you think that you don’t want to build an unpopular brand, you might want to think again. I’d spent two hours in front of a man who followed a path unpopular with his father that netted him a remarkable brand. No one will ever be Captain James T. Kirk again. Priceline’s Negotiator? Love him or hate him. But if we took this business thing a lot less seriously than all of the buzzwords, we might find that it really is about people. And yes, there is risk and things will fail. But you can’t get where you’re going alone and without trying.

And wouldn’t it be epically kickass to get YOU where you want to go — and stop wasting all of your time trying to be someone or something that you think people will like better?

As Shatner might tell you (and I might confirm after last night), there’s no success in an empty theatre. And the only thing that fills those places up?

You got it.

People.