BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — If you spent any time inside a mall in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, then you’re likely familiar with the bass-heavy electronic beats or the potent smell unique to Abercrombie and Fitch stores. A Bakersfield woman is revisiting the racism she says she faced while working at the clothing retailer in a new Netflix documentary premiering Tuesday.
“I wore the clothes, I liked the clothes,” said Carla Barrientos. “I liked for them to be tight fitting, I wanted to show my belly button, that was me at 19.”
Barrientos got a job at Abercrombie & Fitch at the Valley Plaza Mall when she was 19. She soon noticed Abercrombie’s sexy marketing sold one clear message to young adults of color.
“The marketing doesn’t look like me at all,” said Barrientos. “The employees that worked there don’t look like me, something is going on.”
Something was going on, Barrientos says the companies racist practices ‘were so ingrained’ in how they operated that it was ‘disheartening’ for her to work there.
The new Netflix documentary, ‘White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch’ explores the systemic racism the retailer operated on for years.
“Everyone that I come across has an Abercrombie story,” said Barrientos. “Whether it was you worked there or didn’t get hired.”
In the documentary, Carla revisits the few months she worked as an Abercrombie employee in Bakersfield. A time where the pressure to fit in led Carla to gaslight herself.
“What is wrong with you?” said Barrientos. “It’s you and no, no, it was the company, you start to doubt yourself, it was crystal clear but it was a very painful reality.”
Closing shifts began to turn into overnight cleaning and stocking shifts, eventually leading to no shifts, Carla’s complaints to managers were received with little to no grace so she instead turned her entire focus to her studies as a Communications student at CSUB.
“He [manager] said well, you’re such a good window washer, Carla,” said Barrientos.
This kind of racism and discrimination led to various lawsuits, including the 2003 class action lawsuit that Barrientos was part of.
“When I walk an Abercrombie and Fitch store at the mall, I do think about what happened,” said Barrientos. “But I also think about the change that has happened.”
Abercrombie has acknowledged the film and their dark past. In a statement released on social media they say: “”While the problematic elements of that era have already been subject to wide and valid criticism…we want to be clear that they are actions, behaviors and decisions that would not be permitted or tolerated at the company now.”
Looking back, Carla is left with few words she would tell her 19-year-old self.
“You deserve to be in any place that you want,” said Barrientos. “And if something isn’t right, speak up, just speak up.”
You can watch ‘White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch’ only on Netflix.