Abercrombie & Fitch started out as a luxury outdoorsy brand in 1892. It mostly sold camping and hunting equipment for elite, upper-class men.
The documentary, White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, starts by describing how during its rebrand in the 90s and early 2000s, A&F became THE retailer for all-American teens and young adults.
By ‘All American’, they’re of course referring to upper class, boarding school, waspy white kids. The women were thin and blonde and the men were tall, muscular, and fit. Instead of just selling clothes, they were selling an idea: if you wear A&F, you too can be popular, beautiful, fit, and rich, just like the people in the ads. Instead of looking up to an unattainable celebrity, they wanted people to look up to these attainable faces in their campaigns.
This ‘idea’ was represented by the “Hot Naked White Men” that adorned the shopping bags that high school girls would later cut up and paste to the inside of their lockers. It was represented by the staff that worked at the stores – they were never judged on their sales or their politeness to customers, only by their looks and being white.
This was a company built on exclusion.
By 2015, discrimination of race and size was seen as a “stupid business decision”. Abercrombie & Fitch was getting terrible press for the exclusionary tactics they prided themselves on for so many years and even lost a case in court for refusing to hire a woman who wore a headscarf. Something here needed to change.
Fran Horowitz replaced the white male CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch in 2017. Her goal was to “wipe clean” the brand’s history and start fresh as a brand that embraces everyone, including plus sizes. The “cool kids” that A&F once went after were now described as “anybody and everybody”. Today, tons of plus-size and POC influencers now call A&F one of their favourite brands.
Whether this continues to be tokenism – a business decision to increase profit and reputation – or a true change in company values, remains to be seen.
“[Abercrombie & Fitch] didn’t invent evil. They didn’t invent class. They just packaged it.”
You can watch White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch on Netflix.
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