‘White Hot’ Panel Review: How a fashion empire crumbles

Flyer for the event. Provided by the Kegley Institute of Ethics.

Carla Barrientos is a CSUB graduate and a guest on the Kegley Institute of Ethics’ latest panel presenting the Netflix documentary White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch.

The panel is part of the Ethics in Film series hosted by the Kegley Institute of Ethics.

The film features Barrientos speaking about her experiences of discrimination while working for the franchise and the legal battle that followed.

Carla Barrientos was a communications student and was 19 when she first decided to work at Abercrombie & Fitch. She shared, “…they all sat on a big couch in the middle of the store and asked stupid questions like, ‘If you could be any cereal, what cereal would you be?'”

She described the unusual hiring process as an opportunity to see if you have the “look”.

Soon she would become the store’s regular night cleaner and not have scheduled shifts on the floor. She explains in the film that after asking for more lessons, she was never scheduled again at all.

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Barrientos says, “I decided to take part in the lawsuit because I knew what happened to me wasn’t right and I had to speak up about it.”

According to KIE director Dr. Michael Burroughs, the panel is “an opportunity to reflect on ethical issues that are present in film”.

The panel took place on Wednesday, September 14 at 6 p.m. in the CSUB in the Walter W. Stiern library and was open to the public.

At 6:00 p.m., the selected room for the White-Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch screening and panel was filled with students, faculty, and other guests. So many people attended that student volunteers brought out more chairs for incoming guests. The room was tense and the audience listened intently to the documentary being shown.

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In the further course of the screening, the audience was presented with details about the documentary film. Each of the people interviewed in the film shared their own experiences of being part of the franchise. Some were employees, some were customers, and even people in the media. The lawsuit was settled, but the company quickly reverted to its well-known exclusionary practices in how it treated employees and customers.

The Q&A took place after the screening of the film by KIE director Dr. Michael Burroughs and guest speaker Carla Barrientos. dr Burroughs began the panel by asking Carla questions about the film and her experiences filming. She responds with what she was taught by higher-ups. She also explains that she and her peers have been taught what is and isn’t valued when it comes to the brand and its “mission.”

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Barrientos continues, “I was there, but I wasn’t there,” sharing how she felt that as an African American woman, she wasn’t adequately recognized due to the blatant discrimination she faced at the time. With the motto “Inclusion is in”, she also compares the era in which the rise of the brand took place and how different those goals were then compared to today.

After the panel discussion, Barrientos said that the event went well and was well attended and that she hopes that as a community we can keep the conversation going about past inequalities and the inequalities that may be to come.

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