About a dozen teen protesters briefly shut down the Abercrombie & Fitch store on Market Street in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon. Their unlikely cause: the retailer’s practice of perfuming the air in its stores, which the protesters charge could harm customers and employees.
Mostly high school students from Marin, clad in shorts and flip flops, with one boy sporting a Marin County Physics Olympics T-shirt, the group was organized under the banner of an organization called Teens Turning Green. They gathered outside the Westfield mall just after 4 p.m.
Before the activists could enter the store, security ordered them to abandon their signs outside the front door. Signless, they ventured inside anyway gamely marching around chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these toxic fumes have got to go.”
As the protesters tromped in a line up and down the stairs, and around the clothing displays in the dimly lit store, it was sometimes hard to hear what they were saying over the pounding music. Shoppers appeared amused by hub-bub, but the staff was not as tickled, summoning San Francisco police officers and shutting the store down, ejecting customers and protesters alike.
After the police warned the protesters that they could be arrested if they went back in, when the store reopened a few minutes later, the protesters picketed on Market Street waving signs that read: “A&F Stop Spraying Us,” “Stop the Perfume Pollution” and “A&F’s Fierce Contains 11 Hidden Chemicals Not Listed on the Label.”
The girls chanted: “Why is it toxic?” To which the boys would heartily respond: “Because it kills my sperm!”
Emily Packer, 17, a senior at San Rafael High School and the group’s co-president, said the teens want Abercrombie & Fitch to stop spraying the fragrance around their stores and immediately outside them, which it does in some locations.
Barring that, they’d like to see warning signs that tell customers and employees: “If you enter the store, you are leaving yourself open to these potential dangers,” she said. Packer herself has never been an A&F customer, but she said her sister, who suffers from asthma, is. “Even when she brings the clothes home from the store, they smell the same way,” she said.
The teens’ protest was part of a larger effort, spearheaded by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which includes a coalition of environmental and health organizations, such as the Breast Cancer Fund and the Environmental Working Group. Last May, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics published a report called “Not So Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrances,” which looked at 17 fragrance products, including A&F’s signature scent Fierce.
The study found that Fierce contains 11 chemicals not listed on the label because they are considered trade secrets, including eight that can trigger allergic reactions, such as headaches, wheezing and asthma. One of their concerns about the scent is that it contains diethyl phthalate, a synthetic solvent, which is common in fragrances and other personal care products, like lotion, aftershave and shampoo. A 2004 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found it in 97 percent of Americans tested.