Abercrombie and Fitch: Switching Gears at Last

Geoffrey Gelorme

Long time fashion giant Abercrombie and Fitch is ubiquitous among people who hold themselves to a higher standard of style. With that comes selectivity, a characteristic that goes hand-in-hand with the brand name. However, the company has made efforts of late to dispel its proverbial exclusionary reputation.

According to Bloomberg retail reporter Lindsay Rupp, this past April marked the banning of the preppy brand’s “Look Policy” for employees, along with an “appearance and sense of style” hiring rule that requires attractiveness.

Such change is brought about by the retirement of Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries after 22 years. Jeffries became very well known for his offensive views on who should and shouldn’t associate themselves with the brand. In a 2006 article in Salon, he said sex appeal was at the core of the Abercrombie DNA: “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”

It wasn’t until late 2013 that the company finally began to offer plus sizes. And although the company has been brought to court before, plus size exclusion surprisingly hasn’t incited any lawsuits. So not only did he discriminate during the hiring process, but also for who he preferred as customers. Jeffries continued, saying, “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong (in our clothes), and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Not-so-surprisingly, as a result of blatant favoritism to a more selective crowd, Abercrombie sales have taken a considerable downturn, especially in the last year. Just in the last year, the retailer reported recently that its same-store sales in the fourth quarter fell 10%. The stock is down 30% this year and is trading at its lowest levels since early 2009.

With Jeffries’ resignation came the end of the legendary “Look Policy” and although Abercrombie reached incredible popularity under his reign, it’s clear that the company could use some leadership change. His discriminatory policies arguably hurt the company more than helped it, seeing as how his egregiously partial selling tactics incited quite the list of court cases and roller coaster sales. Going forward, the style powerhouse must take a different approach.

In Jeffries’ absence, Abercrombie and Fitch now has the opportunity to evolve past its traditional “exclusion,” as Jeffries put it. Perhaps this is a chance for the company to start anew, and appeal to a larger crowd. After all, sales can only do so well if you eliminate a large portion of potential buyers.

As a loyal customer and faithful employee, I acknowledge the company’s selling antics in the past were questionable, but the tides have changed. The work environment is one of friendliness and not at all looks-oriented. As for the customers Abercrombie sells to, the diversity of people who walk through the doors every day is unsurpassed by similar retailers. I’ve been in American Eagle and Forever 21 countless times and I’ve never seen the motley crew I see in Abercrombie on a daily basis. If it persists in our newly diverse approach, I think the company has a chance to match its former accolades.