Abercrombie & Fitch: In spite of discrimination scandals again popular with young people

In the past, the fashion company Abercrombie & Fitch drew attention to itself primarily through racism and discrimination scandals. But after a rebrand, young people consider it cool again. Recently, a pair of jeans from the label went viral on TikTok – and was quickly sold out.

A young woman wearing Abercrombie & Fitch jeans says to the camera: “I’m far too unknown for anyone to pay me for my opinion. So listen to me: these are the best jeans. Can you see my butt in them? And they’re so stretchy! I just wanted to say buy these jeans.”

This is not a video from the archive, but from the year 2022 by TikTok user “mediumfries”. Under the post is the hashtag #tiktokmademebuyit. 67,000 people liked the video, almost 500 commented and almost 600,000 viewed it. Abercrombie & Fitch is back in fashion with young people, especially the TikTok generation. The US fashion company has been a topic in the media in recent years, mainly due to its various scandals. It was about racism, body shaming, discrimination and a questionable image of humanity. In the new Netflix documentary “Abercrombie & Fitch: Rise and Fall”, former employees and models recently had their say who had nothing good to report: the company had made billions by excluding others.

So what happened? How did A&F get cool again?

In the beginning there was a rebranding of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand

In 2006, then-CEO Mike Jeffries announced that he wanted “young, handsome, cool people” in his stores. Later, Jeffries specified that he didn’t want to make fashion for “fat people and didn’t want to see them in his stores” and removed the sizes XL and XXL from the range. A massive shitstorm followed. Finally, what was already smoldering internally became public, because: There were precise guidelines on how new employees were supposed to look. They were even in a guideline book, as the Netflix documentary has now revealed. And: the appearance of the employees was evaluated weekly. Anyone who no longer met the guidelines was summarily fired. But not only body shaming was one of the trademarks of the label.

Many employees also felt racism: Employees with a migration background were not allowed to work as salespeople, but should stay in the warehouse so as not to meet the customers. With this business model, the turnover in 2013 was 4.5 billion euros, as the “Handelsblatt” reported. For comparison: On its website, the company is now talking about 3.7 billion US dollars (equivalent to 3.5 billion euros) for the year 2021.

Abercrombie & Fitch was recognized by the magazine “fortune” was voted the “most hated dealer in the United States”. Lawsuits followed. Two Muslim women were awarded $71,000 in a settlement: They were discriminated against because of their headscarf. A woman with a prosthetic arm also went to court because she was only in the camp and not in allowed to work the storerooms. And then, at rock bottom, CEO Mike Jeffries left the company after more than two decades in December 2014. The magazine’Bloomberg” later portrayed him and wrote about a bleached man who went to the gym every day and had had numerous cosmetic surgeries himself. A man who was chasing after an eternally young ideal while overlooking reality.

After his departure, which was often described as mysterious, there was a massive rebranding of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand, which set a process in motion. A woman, Fran Horowitz, became the company’s CEO in 2017. The store concept has been overhauled: instead of dark shops with loud bass, a penetrating smell of perfume and shirtless employees, Abercrombie & Fitch is now opting for a clean, modern look. The new room fragrance is explicitly described as “neutral”. One wants to continue to focus on the core business: jeans and sweaters and simple basics for a young target group. The first thing one reads on the website is: “This is Abercrombie Today: Today – and every day – we lead with purpose, champion inclusion and create a sense of belonging.” They now call their scandalous past “journey”.

The “Abercrombie Equity Project” is also advertised, with which the company wants to work “for social justice and against racism”. And of course nowadays a label that wants to reach a young target group should not be without the obligatory promise of sustainability. At A&F, it reads like this: “We will continue to do everything in our power to deliver on our promises to reduce our water consumption in production, to rely primarily on renewable energy and to process environmentally friendly materials.” Nevertheless, there are various parts made of polyester and acrylic in the collection. There is no transparent information online about the country of production.

The formerly popular lettering no longer appears on the shirts in the current collection. Instead, there are now monochrome basic shirts in the men’s collection. If there is a lettering on it, then it’s well-known names like the bands Queen or Led Zeppelin. Drawings by Picasso and Monet are also available as prints. It seems a bit as if there are other, positively associated names on the chest instead of your own. TikTok user “andy_lobos” also presented his surprised followers with a monochrome Abercrombie hoodie without a print and received almost 124,000 likes for it.

Also, the designations of the items “Flirty drama mini dress” or “Cheeky corset one-piece suit” don’t necessarily read contemporary. After all, the “Curve Love Jeans” are also presented by women with curves. One can no longer blame Abercrombie & Fitch for that: the models were cast in various ways: black, white, curvy, skinny, plus size. Only people who wear glasses don’t seem to exist in the eyes of those responsible for A&F.

It’s a new marketing strategy

So Abercrombie & Fitch is doing what it did best 20 years ago: it launched a successful marketing campaign. And that this is diverse and varied is simply a must these days. Abercrombie & Fitch have identified TikTok as the ideal platform for their marketing strategies: “Over the past few years, we’ve put a lot of focus on listening to our customers, and TikTok is the perfect platform to facilitate that communication,” said Carey Collins Krug, Sr Vice President and Marketing Director of Abercrombie Brands, to the “teen vogue“. “We monitor the reviews and hauls of our products. We take notes of how people describe the quality and fit. TikTok and its entire community has an inherent authenticity that has enabled us to humanize Abercrombie.” There have been collaborations with plus-size bloggers and various influencers. The brand also has almost 5 million followers on Instagram.

The TikTok users seem to find the new face of Abercrombie & Fitch credible or at least not to hold grudges. They’re happily wearing the company’s jeans again, most recently the “The 90s Straight Ultra High” jeans.

Sources: Bloomberg, Business Insider, fortune, Handelsblatt, teen vogue

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