Teen apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch continues to move away from its previously sexualized, “cool kids” vibe, rebranding to "This is Abercrombie & Fitch."
The new identity will hew more closely to Abercrombie's roots as an all-American brand that “reflects that confidence and independence of spirit as well as our own dedication to a more diverse and inclusive culture,” the company said in a press release, with an emphasis on more diverse and clothed models, more denim and less logo-centric clothing.
Abercrombie & Fitch is slated to roll out its largest-ever advertising campaign ahead of the holidays. The campaign will include a completely redesigned website, all-new digital advertising across video streaming websites, music platforms, social media and out-of-home marketing (billboards, transit ads and other outdoor advertising) in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Abercrombie's merchandising changes (spearheaded by creative director of marketing Ashley Sargent Price, who recently arrived from J. Crew) may enable the company to ease up on heavy discounting and mitigate sales losses. Over the last few quarters, the retailer has distanced itself from the logo-centric clothing and highly sexualized marketing rejected by millennials, and focused on the quality of its apparel. But losses continued for the retailer in the second quarter, with net sales falling 4% from the same quarter last year to $783.2 million, and Q2 same-store sales also down 4% from the year ago period.
Executives are trying to figure out how to remake the Abercrombie and Hollister brands after the exit of former CEO Mike Jeffries nearly two years ago, Columbia University business school retail studies professor Mark Cohen told Retail Dive earlier this year. “Whether it can be done remains to be seen,” he said.
The rebrand seeks to take advantage of Abercrombie’s 125-year history as a preppy American retailer, according to the company’s president and chief merchandising officer, Fran Horowitz. "Rather than buying clothes that symbolize membership in an exclusive group, today's consumer celebrates individuality and uniqueness,” she said in a statement. “Our new brand reflects that confidence and independence of spirit as well as our own dedication to a more diverse and inclusive culture.”
Abercrombie's reputation has also suffered diversity issues, with 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. A lawsuit filed this year 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, Abercrombie can’t afford a damaged reputation. 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. But many observers are questioning that pivot. Eric Beder of Wunderlich Securities wrote in a note to clients that marketing to an older age group "makes little sense." Beder said he sees little reason for older customers to revert to the teen brand. "Frankly, there are better brands and lifestyles for the 20+ customer to focus on.”