BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Carla Barrientos was 19 years old when she worked at the Abercrombie & Fitch store in the Valley Plaza Mall. Her experience with the all American branded clothing line outlined in a new Netflix documentary: White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch.
“The whole culture of what’s cool and who’s cool, it’s all fluff, it’s not important," she said.
Barrientos is just one of the many former Abercrombie & Fitch employees in the documentary who share their experiences of racism, bias, and exploitive marketing practices.
“The culture at the time really was exclusion, it looks so different than where we are, and good thing times have changed but it definitely there was a pride in exclusion.”
The CSUB alumna explains that she — like so many other teens in the early 2000s — saw the store as coolest place to work. But the longer she worked there, the more she realized she didn’t fit the A&F mold and it was starting to impact her job.
“It was interesting to see that just some of the ideas I had were confirmed. I mean this was the practice," she said. “To go into a store and I started to notice I was hired to work on the floor and everyone who worked on the floor was white. There was something that was happening and it didn’t mirror my real life and my experience at least growing up in Bakersfield.”
She along with several other former employees of color were plaintiffs named in a 2003 class action lawsuit against the clothing company alleging discrimination. The lawsuit was settled for $40 million in 2004 and the clothing brand agreed to a consent decree to overhaul their practices.
As she looks back at her experience, now an educator and mother of two, Barrientos hopes this film will serve as a reminder to younger generations of how far society has come and the work that still needs to be done.
“The things that we’re so sought after and important are just not everyone has a space, if you don’t fit this mold, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong, it means the mold is wrong.”