Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is dropping those barely-clothed guys and girls and All-American sales clerks.
The retailer, which has been battling against the downturn in the teen sector, has said it has updated its corporate policy at the A&F and Hollister brands. The move comes shortly after the exit of long-term chief executive officer Mike Jeffries, who was renowned for his preference for sexualized images and perfectly American staff.
The switch also comes as that other progenitor of sexualized marketing – American Apparel – is making similar moves. A&F also has faced numerous lawsuits over the years regarding its allegedly discriminatory hiring practices that were said to favor white, All-American looking staff over ethnic employees. There currently is a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court charging A&F with discriminating against a Muslim woman by not hiring her because she wore a traditional head scarf.
A&F naturally presented the policy changes as an evolution, which follows the appointments of new brand presidents at the core Abercrombie chain as well as at Hollister. In corporate speak, the changes will mean that store associates will no longer be hired based on body type; sexualized marketing will no longer be used in marketing materials by the end of July; store operations will focus on a customer-centric model; shirtless models or lifeguards will no longer be used for events, except for imagery for A&F’s Fierce cologne due to fragrance industry norm; store managers work under an incentive program, with sales goals and incentives; store managers have autonomy for product placement, and new dress code for store associates, who are no longer “models” and are instead “brand representatives.”
The company said the policies, which align with its corporate values, will make the retailer “stronger and a more nimble competitor.”
In an April 23 letter from Christos Angelides, the A&F brand president, to regional and district managers, he said, “These changes have been made to ensure we focus on customer requirements and promote an inclusive work environment.”
Angelides said that when it comes to recruitment, “We will not tolerate discrimination based on body type or physical attractiveness and will not tolerate discrimination in hiring based on any category protected under the law.”
The “Look Policy” has been discontinued, replaced by a “Dress Code that place fewer restrictions on associates. Importantly, the company has always allowed associates lawful accommodations and now states specifically in the Dress Code how associates should request an accommodation,” Angelides said. Also gone are the separate “Hairstyle Guide” and “Closed Toes Shoe List.”
Fran Horowitz, brand president for Hollister, sent a similar letter.
Both letters also included the new corporate policy statement and dress code.
In the Dress Code guidelines, one point that was emphasized was that the “company values a diverse work force.” And while there were some guidelines presented, such as not to “display obscene or large tattoos,” the company also noted that it does “not require that associates buy or wear clothing, footwear, accessories or other items from our brands.”
The practice by fashion brands forcing their store associates to buy current season’s merchandise to showcase the look, even with a company discount, came under fire many years ago in the court system. Many companies have since pulled back on that practice, and A&F is the latest company to do so.
The Dress Code does bar store associates from wearing apparel, footwear and accessories that are “clearly those of a competitor,” such as having an obvious label, name, logo or identifiable trademark of a competitor.
The latest changes are a nod to A&F critics over the years who have sought change. The first bow to that pressure occurred in January 2014, when activist investors sought better corporate governance at the teen retailer that led to Jeffries being removed as chairman, although he kept the ceo title. Arthur Martinez came in as chairman, a role he still has. The retailer is in the midst of a search to replace Jeffries, who retired in December 2014. The split of the chairman and ceo roles is in keeping with the current trend among corporate firms. Also along the lines of better corporate governance was the inclusion of new independent directors.
Shares of A&F inched down 0.1 percent Friday to $22.86 in Big Board trading.