Abercrombie & Fitch Responds to Upcoming Netflix Doc: 'We've Evolved'

"We've taken intentional steps to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone," the company said in a statement, ahead of the White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch debut

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Photo: Konrad Fiedler/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Abercrombie & Fitch is in a new era, one the company says is far different than its controversial past viewers will see in Netflix's anticipated upcoming documentary.

Last week, the retailer shared a message to social media responding to White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, the film that follows the chain's popularity in the late '90s and early '00s, and how controversy surrounding its exclusionary marketing and discriminatory hiring affected its signature all-American image.

"In the spirit of transparency, we want to directly acknowledge the news of an upcoming documentary that will feature Abercrombie & Fitch and focus on an era that took place under previous leadership," the brand said in a statement. "While the problematic elements of that era have already been subject to wide and valid criticism over the years, we want to be clear that they are actions, behaviors and decisions that would not be permitted or tolerated at the company now."

The company went on to send gratitude to shoppers who have stood by them.

"As we've evolved, we've felt the love from this community," the post read. "We are grateful for the support you have given us as we've taken intentional steps to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone."

"Thank you for giving us the chance to show you who Abercrombie is today, and for being a part of who we will be tomorrow," it continued. "We know the work is never done and remain committed to continually creating a company of which we can all be proud."

White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is set to debut on Netflix April 19.

The film comes from award-winning director-producer Alison Klayman, and features interviews with dozens of industry insiders and former A&F employees, executives, and models.

In its trailer, which PEOPLE exclusively premiered, participants discuss how the retail company conquered malls, with teens everywhere flocking to the stores to soak up a shopping experience marked by dark mood lighting, pulsating dance music, a strong signature scent, and shirtless male jocks standing guard at every entrance.

The brand was "selling a potent mix of sex and wholesomeness," Netflix noted in a release. But getting a seat at the proverbial cool kids' table came at a cost, when the brand began firing people on the basis of their looks.

Complaints ensued that the company was only catering to the "young, thin, and white" aesthetic, with outspoken CEO Mike Jeffries famously barking back about criticism that the brand didn't carry sizes above size 10 by saying, "a lot of people don't belong in our clothes."

"Abercrombie & Fitch said, 'We go after the cool kids. If they didn't look a certain way, they didn't belong in our clothing,' " one commentator explains in the trailer. "Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."

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Throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, the brand faced several lawsuits, accusing a 2004 class-action suit in which they were accused of discriminating against African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and women by preferentially offering positions to Caucasian males. The brand agreed to a $40 million settlement, and revised its hiring policies as a part of it.

One lawsuit, filed in 2009 and involving a teen who was told her hijab violated the store's "look policy" when she applied to work there, went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

"While I was working on this film, I learned that whenever I mentioned Abercrombie & Fitch to someone, I was going to hear something personal. About first kisses and teenage insecurities. About where they grew up and how much money their family had. About their relationship to beauty standards, race and sexuality. About belonging," Klayman shared in a statement to PEOPLE. "This film is for everyone who came of age in those years when the brand and its exclusionary vision of what it meant to be 'all-American' were touchstones in the culture.

"It's an interesting time to come back to Abercrombie," she continued. "Social media has transformed the way that brands and consumers relate. It's hard to imagine a clothing line dictating taste to American teens like Abercrombie did. And while today many brands are trying to associate themselves with diversity and social justice, it's sobering to recall how successful Abercrombie got with its undisguised embrace of white elitism."

"It's my hope that by taking a clear-eyed look at Abercrombie's rise and fall we can see ourselves a little more clearly in the present too," she said.

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