Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch

The rise, fall, and rebirth of Abercrombie & Fitch is an arc that doubles as a enterprise case research in administration practices and model reinvention. 

Abercrombie & Fitch was a darling American model that dominated the closets of teenagers and younger adults within the late nineties and early aughts, solely to implode spectacularly. The model reveled in its WASPiness: it marketed the All-American look by way of exclusivity, plastering photographs of shredded physiques throughout storefronts and buying bags–all whereas hiring individuals who sported the identical look. 

At one level, shirtless males (with washboard abs, in fact) have been positioned at storefronts to welcome patrons. The firm bought intercourse in a palatable method: carrying Abercrombie was a standing image, which made it excusable for the model to dominate highschool hallways. 

This was all performed beneath the course of former Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries, the person liable for giving the Abercrombie look a facelift. Founded in 1892, Abercrombie traditionally catered towards sportsmen and principally bought outside and sporting items. At one level, the model even known as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway clients. But when Jeffries assumed the position of CEO in 1992, he honed the model’s technique on elitism and introduced on others to assist carry his imaginative and prescient to life.

Part of the model’s enchantment is that it was each unique and aspirational: youngsters and faculty clients yearned to be a part of the cool child membership, explains Dustin York, an affiliate professor of communication at Maryville University. “They don’t want to stand out from the crowd necessarily,” he says. “But they still want to be seen as a popular and successful high school or college students”

“Abercrombie really almost took that philosophy and basically put it on steroids,” York provides.

But the momentum behind Abercrombie was overcome by different cultural forces as client preferences shifted and critics stood as much as what seemed to be a blatantly racist and discriminatory ideology that propped up the model. Amid rising criticism, Abercrombie flamed out, as just lately portrayed within the new Netflix documentary White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. 

Now working beneath the management of Fran Horowitz, Abercrombie has modified its tune. The monocultural monotony that the model as soon as embraced has been changed on-line by a presence that imbues inclusivity. Its web site and social media function fashions of various races and sizes, accompanied by celebratory posts about group and acceptance. 

Abercrombie definitely is not the primary style model to flame out, however its fast fall provides some classes value remembering: 

Change is crucial for survival

Change could also be uncomfortable, however it’s important for firms that wish to keep related. The excellent news is that firms which are weaker with ideation can all the time supply that ability elsewhere. But ideation is crucial to longevity, particularly amid a altering setting of client preferences. “If you don’t like change, you’ll like being irrelevant even less,” says York.

How You Treat Employees Has Long-Term Implications

The hiring practices of Abercrombie have been rooted in racism, elitism, and discrimination, based on the documentary. Recruiters operated beneath directions to rent solely handsome folks, which Abercrombie outlined in a booklet that spelled out what was acceptable. While “classic hairstyles” introduced on a white mannequin have been within the acceptable class, dreadlocks on a Black mannequin fell into the unacceptable class.

Ultimately, how Abercrombie handled its staff and job candidates in the end unraveled the material of its sturdy model, says Kathy Gersch, a former Nordstrom vp who’s the chief business officer at Kotter, a enterprise consulting agency.

Abercrombie was hit with a number of lawsuits over its discriminatory practices. A lawsuit filed in 2003 alleged discrimination in opposition to Asian, Black and Hispanic staff. Abercrombie shied away from hiring non-white people to work on the gross sales flooring and when it did, inspired non-white staff to work different roles within the retailer that did not work together with the general public, based on the go well with. The firm finally agreed to a $40 million settlement and a consent decree requiring it to implement variety and inclusion measures within the enterprise.

The firm additionally misplaced a spiritual discrimination case filed by Samantha Elauf, a Muslim girl who claimed she wasn’t employed by the model as a result of she wore a hijab. The Supreme Court finally dominated in Elauf’s favor in 2015 and located that Abercrombie violated civil rights regulation.

Think customer-first

One of the vital elements behind Abercrombie’s downfall was its intense deal with the model, relatively than the shoppers. Businesses that see fast development on account of cultural forces want to recollect to maintain their clients in thoughts, based on Carlos Castelán, the managing director of The Navio Group, a retail administration consulting agency. Castelán cautions that companies should not get too far over their skis once they’re scaling their firm. “Businesses that lose sight of their customer and believe the brand itself is what’s most powerful often erode over time,” he explains. “Thinking customer-first rather than assuming the infallibility of the brand is the key lesson learned from the rise and fall of Abercrombie.”

Brands assist form tradition and society

Brands are necessary to society as a result of they assist folks categorical themselves, but in addition can foster a way of group and social belonging. Take cult classics like Trader Joe’s or Apple, each of which have devoted buyer bases that proceed to subscribe to new merchandise the firms pump out. Apple, in its personal method, influences present discourse (the prevalence of iMessage has led to lighthearted jabs round inexperienced textual content bubbles despatched from non-Apple units.) Whatever model folks select to put on acts like a billboard that exhibits who they’re as an individual and what values they’ve, based on York.

“Brands have the most impact in society: more than legislation, more than any president, more than any single influencer,” says York. “Large brands can move the needle on any topic.” But, as in Abercrombie’s case, not all the time in the proper method. 

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