There’s a new team at Abercrombie & Fitch remaking the brand and attempting to pull it out of its doldrums.
There are no sacred cows except for maintaining the “passionate, obsessive” culture that decades ago propelled the brand into cult status and global recognition.
“We want to be honest with the industry about where we are and what we are working on,” said Stacia Andersen, president of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand and abercrombie kids. “We have rebuilt this team. We have an incredibly talented team [including] people who built this brand that have been here 20 years. And we have gone at this brand from top down to bottom up, thinking about who we want to be, what do we want to stand for and, most importantly, what do we want to keep.
“One of the misconceptions is that we are a teen logo sweatshirt brand,” she said.
What’s most important is “that we keep the culture of passion and the obsessive nature of what we are doing. This brand is known for being obsessive,” whether it’s in regard to the store experience, product details or quality, she said. “We want to keep that. We want to keep the passion — and then everything else is up for discussion.”
Andersen, along with Aaron Levine, Abercrombie’s senior vice president of design outlined what’s changing at A&F. They cited a shift in the target market to 20-year-olds; the store prototype that integrates the women’s and men’s merchandising, has a smaller footprint, better sight lines, larger fitting rooms rigged with technology, and developing products that are unique. There’s even been the addition of a new scent to help refresh the store experience and signal change.
“We turned on a new scent, introducing this spring a line of gender neutral scents. It’s real fresh, really clean. We believe a scent is part of our brand,” Andersen said.
She said that in the Nineties, Abercrombie became an iconic brand and part of the culture for teenagers and college kids. “Fast forward to today, we are working to build a new A&F for the twentysomethings. They are super passionate about who they are and what they want from us. They’re independent, confident. They know their style and we want to be part of their lives.”
Levine recalled his first impression of A&F when he visited the headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, to be interviewed for the job. “You’ve got this beautiful campus in the middle of nowhere. No disrespect, I live there and love it. It allows you to fully engage and focus on what we are working on — where the brand was, where it’s going. It’s always had this obsessive attention to the brand in whatever stage it was.”
With the design process, “We are literally working on the floor, playing with different fabrics, playing with different materials, trying to platform those materials across different areas,” Levine said. “We truly utilize some of the best piece goods on the planet. We have rebalanced the fit, focused on finish, on fabric, on details.”
And the mentality has been, “Let’s pick our heads up and not necessarily look at the numbers. Look at the product, be passionate about it. How are we engaging with it?
“Design is messy,” Levine added. “It’s not about these sweeping decisions. It’s about rolling your sleeves up and breaking it apart and rebuilding. We’ve looked at every single block, every single stitch, every single fit, every single fabric, every single everything. You can’t do it all at once. You start chipping away.
“Yes, there is opportunity to modernize but not without being authentic. We are a casual American brand. Those are our roots. We don’t want people coming into the store and being alarmed by what they see. Attention to detail is critical as are fashion and trend moves. How do we address that? We need to be respectful as to where we were and at the same time pushing forward.
“We want to make this brand part of the culture,” as it was positioned in the Nineties, Andersen said.
“Our customer has grown up. They are social. They are engaged. They want to be part of a brand. It’s just not about shopping somewhere. I think engaging them is becoming part of their conversation and becoming part of their life. It’s less about just delivering the product they want, although for us that is critical. If that doesn’t end in a great store experience and something they are proud to wear, you have not really been doing your job….It’s about having a two-way conversation every day with our customers.
“We picked that twentyomething customer, specifically 20 to 22 because we feel there is white space in that market; 60 percent of our customers today are over 18. We are going to pull from 18 maybe even younger and we are going to pull from an older demographic, and we are going to fit a larger group of people from a style standpoint and from a fit standpoint.”
While Abercrombie was “born out of a store experience,” Andersen said, “It is surprising how much of our business has been digital. It’s north of 30 percent,” and likely to keep rising as the company “right-sizes” its store footprint.
“We are the ultimate iconic American casual retailer,” Andersen stated. “Aaron and I didn’t pick up our lives and move to the middle of Ohio to be OK. We want to be the best brand in the world. We want to return this brand to the place we think it belongs. There is such love for this brand that people genuinely want it to come back.”