The Paradox of Abercrombie and Fitch
I remember the days of brightly colored hoodies and the glaring words Abercrombie & Fitch dominating the halls of middle school. Sure, the clothing looked comfortable, but I was very confused by A&F’s cult-like appeal—why in the world would anyone want to pay to be a walking advertisement? My cousins, who exclusively wore A&F, explained it to me this way: “It’s cute.” Being a fashion-challenged middle schooler, I just accepted that I had no taste and moved on. But, once I got to high school, the situation reversed: “A&F is too exclusive.” “They aren’t diverse enough.” I felt a sense of victory— maybe I did have some fashion sense after all. But, after recently taking a trip down memory lane and browsing the A&F website, my perception on the brand changed.
Instead of the mostly white, extremely fit models I had seen in middle school, there were now Asian models, African-American models, and models that didn’t adhere to the stereotypically “perfect” body-type. It was a stark change that likely resulted from the previous CEO’s comments suggestion that he only wanted “good-looking” people wearing his clothing, and from the racist t-shirts previously produced by the label. I was genuinely pleased to see the change, but it also struck me as an obvious ploy to redeem their image and thus sales. In other words, I suspected they were picking and choosing “token minorities” to make their brand seem less discriminatory and more likeable. Believe it or not, though, this advertising trick totally worked on me. The more diverse their models became, the more I came to trust the brand, and eventually the more I came to buy their clothes.
It’s true that A&F has, for the most part, ditched the obvious logo branding and has switched to making on-trend and fashionable clothes. Still, despite their aesthetic transformation, A&F hasn’t seemed to be able to completely ditch their racist and exclusive reputation. Providing contrast to my middle school years, people now say: “Who even wears Abercrombie & Fitch anymore?” Is it bad to say that I do? Forbes states that A&F stocks are now soaring past expected margins, and thus I think it’s fair to say I’m not the only one who has fallen victim to their new marketing ploys.
More broadly, I would say that nearly all clothing brands are guilty of using diversity as a way to attract more customers. Why, then, is A&F as a brand still largely associated with its old reputation? I think that question represents the interesting paradox of A&F. A&F has totally rebuilt itself as a brand by ditching their old image, yet their past negative reputation has largely persisted. It’s fascinating that the brand’s past has continuously influenced the current A&F to make image decisions which sharply refute the previous reputation, and have thus actually made the brand into a more diversity-conscious company.