After years of promising a pivot from its dark, perfumed stores and highly sexualized marketing, teen apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is unveiling a brighter, more streamlined approach.
The new campaign features more diverse and clothed models—also reflected in the brand’s more denim-oriented, less logo-centric clothing.
The rebranding was spearheaded by creative director of marketing Ashley Sargent Price who recently arrived from J. Crew.
As with rival teen apparel retailer American Eagle in recent quarters, Abercrombie’s merchandising changes have enabled the company to ease up on heavy discounting and mitigate sales losses. Some of these include distancing itself from the logo-centric clothing rejected by millennials and highly sexualized marketing, and focusing on quality of its apparel.
But the retailer has struggled to make good on its repeated promises to turn up the lights at its darkly-lit stores, an approach from the era of CEO Mike Jeffries, who leaned on marketing and an ethos that the retailer catered to some mythic cool kid.
Losses still continued in the first quarter, marking the company's thirteenth straight quarter of losses. Net sales were down 3% in the first quarter compared to last year, with same-store sales down 4% company-wide, below analysts' expectations for a 1.5% rise.
Columbia University business school retail studies professor Mark Cohen told Retail Dive earlier this year that Abercrombie and its Hollister brand are still trying to figure out who they after the Jeffries’ exit nearly two years ago.
“There’s a massive effort going on to figure out how to position Hollister and Abercrombie, but whether it can be done remains to be seen,” Cohen told Retail Dive.
Abercrombie has also been at odds with diversity issues, suffering a bruising loss last summer at the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in an 8-1 decision that a job applicant who wore a hijab for religious reasons and was denied a job could indeed sue for discrimination. And a lawsuit filed this month over a transgender employee’s firing shows that the company’s “look policy” may still be getting it in trouble.
Those ongoing legal issues may have helped place the retailer among the least liked brands in America, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. With apparel purchases already slipping on teens’ list of priorities, Abercrombie can’t afford that kind of reputation anymore. That has led to efforts like an anti-bullying campaign from the company and a push to talk about environmental sustainability.
The retailer is also apparently working to appeal to older consumers, who presumably have a bit more money to spend.
"This is a journey," chairman Arthur Martinez told Business Insider in May. "There won’t be an "a ha!" moment where we pull the covers off something and say, 'here’s the silver bullet answer.' Research tells us that there is a longing for the Abercrombie brand to become 'my' brand again. We hear quotes, like 'I’ve grown up but the brand didn’t grow up with me.’"