Columns, Opinion

THADANI: Abercrombie and Who?

Talk to anyone who is still bitter about their middle school days (me), and they will most likely scoff at the idea of Abercrombie & Fitch. Not just for its pompous image, but also because of the painful memories the brand evokes of trying — and failing — to be one of the cool kids by wearing its clothes.

When Abercrombie & Fitch and its offshoot brands, Hollister Co. and Abercrombie Kids, began falling from its pedestal a few years ago, we were all happy to watch the demise. About a month ago, the retailer reported its 10th straight decline in quarterly sales, with its net sales decreasing by 6 percent, according to an Aug. 29 Wall Street Journal article.

After announcing the closure of about 60 of its stores, CEO Mike Jeffries announced an attempt to revive the company by rebranding itself. This rebranding effort, officially announced at the end of August, involves the company finally dropping its classic moose logo from all its clothes.

Despite the negative connotation attached to this brand, I’ve always found the way this company runs itself quite fascinating. (And no, I am not just saying that to defend the fact that I, Trisha Thadani, was once a loyal Hollister floor model). As a former employee, I was so interested by this drastic announcement that I decided to take a gander at my old stomping grounds of the Abercrombie & Fitch in Faneuil Hall while doing some fall shopping this weekend.

From the outside, Abercrombie & Fitch and its offshoots seem like a loud, nauseating cloud of cologne, plagued with over-priced clothing and overly enthusiastic employees. As a person who worked on the inside, I can say with confidence that none of those observations are wrong. However, when I walked in the other day, I was pleasantly surprised that all of my senses weren’t blown out like they used to be during my four hour shifts in high school. The store’s music was turned down, the cologne had dissipated and their lights were turned up.

Their clothes were flowy and flowery, and some were even sold in black. Logos were absolutely nowhere to be found except in the sale sections, marked 30 to 50 percent off. Anyone who is familiar with the store will know that such is a stark contrast from their old image.

This company has always been all about its branding. Whether it was a simple moose or a graphic tee emblazoned with their logo, Abercrombie was sure that all of their clothes screamed, well, “Abercrombie.” Although their old branding could be seen as irritating, it still is what made the company unique and desirable for those who wanted people to know they paid good money for the shirt, specifically for those overseas.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this brand modification correlates with an interesting change in American teenage behavior and fashion trends, which now emphasize individuality, a concept Abercrombie & Fitch did not seem to capitalize on until they realized that is what was hurting their sales.

“Teens who once sought brand names have shifted to cheaper, unmarked gear that they can use to put together their own individual styles,” the Wall Street Journal reported in August. The article then went on to say the company plans to continue capitalizing on their logos overseas, where the branded-style is still popular.

In the two years I worked with the company, I realized that it is really bad at being subtle about the image they tried to portray. Back in 2006, Jeffries stirred controversy by suggesting their clothes were made for “cool” and “attractive” kids, not “fat” people. As for their employees, the company ensured us “floor models” resonated and represented their ideal look and left little room for our own individual expression.

As a floor model, I had to buy and wear certain clothes each season. I couldn’t wear any jewelry aside from small earrings and two rings, no noticeable nail polish, only light make up, my jeans had to be cuffed twice — not once — and by absolutely no means could I walk past a customer and not ask them how they were doing, no matter how many times I ran into them during their visit to the store.

For a company that was so adamant and righteous about the looks they pushed into the market, it’s nice to see them finally show some humility and change for their customers.

While browsing through the store the other day, I found that their prices are still pretty off-putting, but I was so enamored by their clothes that the temptation was too strong to resist. So, I will publicly admit that I, Trisha Thadani, with a fresh paycheck in my pocket, eagerly bought a shirt from Abercrombie & Fitch this weekend (but only because it didn’t say Abercrombie on it).

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