Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has made a statement in response to Netflix's documentary of the brand. A&F posted on its Facebook and Instagram directly acknowledging the news of the upcoming documentary, which it said would focus on "an era that took place under previous leadership".
"While the problematic elements of that era have already been subject to wide and valid criticism over the years, we want to be clear that they are actions, behaviors and decisions that would not be permitted or tolerated at the company now," it said. It also thanked its followers for the support through its journey to become more inclusive.
"We know the work is never done and remain committed to continually creating a company of which we can all be proud."
A&F's statement came as Netflix released a trailer for the documentary last week titled White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. The documentary explores A&F’s "pop culture reign in the late ’90s and early 2000s" and how it thrived on exclusion, according to the synopsis on Netflix's YouTube channel.
Abercrombie of the past
A&F frequently took a fair bit of blows to the brand under its previous leadership led by CEO Mike Jeffries. Jeffries was appointed as A&F’s CEO in 1992 to revamp the brand. He had been responsible for coming up the company’s sexed-up image, with its racy ads, catalogs and topless in-store male models that the brand has become well-known for. Even in Singapore, in 2011, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), together with the the Building Construction Authority, suspended A&F's sexy teaser ad at Knightsbridge, ahead of its opening there, for breaching local ad guidelines on decency. The huge ad covering the entire window of its store showed a man's torso with his hands tugging at his low-slung jeans.
Additionally, the brand has also been accused of racist behaviour in its hiring practices. In 2006, Jeffries was also quoted saying that the brand targets the cool kids and the attractive all-American kid, and admitted to the brand being "exclusionary".
However, A&F hit a turning point in 2014 after Jeffries was was stripped of his duties due to investor pressure to reduce Jeffries’ control over the company. Quoted on Bloomberg, Christos Angelides, president of the company’s Abercrombie brand said that A&F was putting “the customer at the center of the business” once again, in a bid to cater to more to shoppers as “for too long stores and clothes were tailored to Jeffries’s whims.”
In addition to Angelides' appointment, A&F implemented a slew of changes in 2015. It ceased hiring store workers based on their looks and body types, as well as banking on its sex appeal. The brand also stopped using its iconic shirtless models at store openings or events for both the Abercrombie & Fitch brand and its sister brand Hollister. Meanwhile, sales staff will also be known as “brand representatives” rather than "models".
Separately, 2014 also saw A&F undergo a revamp, which included stripping its iconic logo off its products. This was a major step for the retailer which was known for its brand splashed right across its products.
In a bid to become more inclusive and rebuild its brand image, A&F embarked on several initiatives. In 2020, the brand launched the Abercrombie Equity Project, an initiative dedicated to social and racial justice. According to A&F's website, the initiative aims to empower all voices and make an impact by generating funding, enabling change and sharing the experiences of underrepresented communities. Fran Horowitz, CEO of A&F said, "Abercrombie isn’t a brand where you need to fit in—it’s one where everyone truly belongs. We lead with purpose, and that inclusive and equitable spirit is woven throughout all we do.”
That year also saw A&F launch what it deemed then as “a groundbreaking campaign”, building off of its 2019 relaunch of its fragrance, Fierce. The 2020 #FaceYourFierce campaign included a cast of 24 members, known as the “Fierce Family” who were activists, dancers, authors, community trailblazers, actors, performers, models, entrepreneurs, comedians amongst others. Throughout the year-long campaign, cast members would share their experiences of body positivity, self-empowerment, determination, LGBTQ+ equality, gender equality, overcoming obstacles, and more, all to inspire customers to explore the unexpected and emotional aspects of inner strength – a far cry from its usual campaigns which previously featured provocative models with its sexualised marketing tactics.
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