It’s a brand that you might not recognise with its clothes on. American retail icon Abercrombie & Fitch has announced that it will be stripping back its sexualised marketing practices as of July this year, with more emphasis on the clothes and less on ripped models. Sister brand Hollister will also be taking a more modest approach.
Back in 2006, former CEO Mike Jeffries stated that the entire Abercrombie brand was built on sex appeal. “It’s almost everything,” he said. “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.” Fast-forward nearly a decade, and Jeffries no longer holds a position within the company.
“We have moved away from sexualised marketing,” says spokeswoman Mackenzie Bruce. “Today, our marketing has undergone a significant evolution. We are using mostly colour images and are focused on showcasing product and trends.”
The most immediate and obvious change will be the absence of shirtless Adonis-like sales staff in stores. Abercrombie is infamous for policing the looks of its workers, and that won’t go away simply because there’s less skin on show. However, it does certainly appear that the company is eager to ditch the more extreme ends of Jeffries’ ‘look policy’, which resulted in a law suit in 2013 after a Muslim woman was denied a job because her headscarf didn’t fit the dress code.
“Clerks will be referred to as brand representatives, not models,” says Bloomberg’s Lindsay Rupp. “They still can’t wear extreme makeup or jewellery, but the rules are gentler.”
Shares in Abercrombie have dipped by 20% this year, and COO Jonathan Ramsden believes that making stores lighter, airier and less overtly sexualised is a crucial first step in turning the company’s fortunes around. “We’ll fine-tune some things going forward,” he says. “The important point is there’s a strong conviction we’re going down the right path.”
This culture change is already evident on Abercrombie’s Instagram, where abs are only on show in the swimwear category. And following a successful anti-bullying campaign last year, the brand is keen to shake off the remnants of its “exclusionary” reputation by introducing plus size clothes to its product lines.