Abercrombie & Fitch: The Fall of the Once ‘Cool’ Brand

What do you get when you combine graphic tees with graphics that are funny until they are not, models with a chiselled physique that seem cool until they are not, and a business strategy that performs great until it doesn’t? You get the once aggressively popular fast-fashion brand ‘Abercrombie & Fitch.’

The All-American brand’s decent is no secret in the fashion and business world ever since sales plummeted and consumer opinion of the brand drastically changed. However, the brand’s ill fate has come into the spotlight once again with the release of the Netflix documentary “White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch.’

While the retail brand is still functioning and earning revenue in billions, it’s far from where it was in the early 2000s at the peak of its success. The overtly sexualized marketing, topless male staff in stores, and bad taste humour has finally come to an end as the brand has had to rethink its strategy.

What Went Wrong?

So many things! Abercrombie & Fitch started gaining popularity, especially in the teenage market in the 90s. That’s when the then CEO Mike Jeffries took the helm and devised a new strategy to target the teenager market.

Featuring provocative models and leveraging celebrity endorsements, A&F created such a hyped-up image of the brand that it became the ultimate symbol of ‘cool.’ Teenagers and young adults would proudly wear t-shirts and shorts embroidered or printed with the A&F logo and letters.

Although this strategy was working great as the company consistently saw its revenues rise, it wasn’t for the long term. They clearly thought what was working would continue to work. And things suddenly started to shift for the worst.

Starting in the late 2000s, the company was consistently embroiled in controversies. It released collections that have racist imagery and connotations. In 2002, the company was accused of using Asian stereotypes in its t-shirts.

More notably, the brand created this unrealistic All-American image with models with ridiculously toned physiques and heights no shorter than six feet. Oh, and they were almost all white. There was not an iota of inclusivity.

And with millennials dominating the consumer market, attitudes toward non-inclusive fashion brands changed.

What Lessons Can Be Learned for the Downfall of Abercrombie & Fitch?

For marketers and fashion enthusiasts, the Netflix documentary is a must-watch. It details exactly how the company came to be one of the most disliked fashion brands in America. They did change their strategy drastically in 2017, shifting focus from teenagers to young adults.

However, there are a few key lessons to be learned:

  • Unrealistic marketing with almost nude models and almost perfect bodies is not the best strategy to target a consumer base that cannot or doesn’t want to achieve that kind of perfection.

  • Pay attention to consumer trends and opinions and adapt to the changing socio-economic narrative.

  • Be more inclusive, especially in a market like the US, where people come from different races and ethnic backgrounds.

  • Consistently review your strategy and products before launch to ensure they are not offensive to any particular groups, whether or not they are your target market.

La Jolie

For Elemntz