After former CEO Mike Jeffries lost his job at Abercrombie & Fitch in late 2014 due to a series of missteps – from over-expanding overseas to creating a climate that prevented those outside of his narrow definition of beauty from working in the chain or shopping – The brand has now embarked on a six-year journey to improve its image, especially in terms of diversity.
To be fair, the company made some strides under its former Chief Diversity Officer Todd Corley, who served in that role from 2004 to 2014 and was the architect of the brand’s diversity initiative. Ten years ago, the company also began partnering with The Trevor Project, which focuses on mental health support to curb the overwhelming suicide rate among LGBTQIA + youth, said Carey Collins Krug, SVP and chief marketing officer at Abercrombie.
But there was still a lot of work to do. A low point came in 2016 when a series of releases declared the brand to be the most hated brand in the United States after it was ranked last among retailers according to an American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey.
Quite a few things have changed at the retailer since then, including a thorough rebranding that ditched shirtless models and loud music, ditched the oversized logo in favor of a more subtle one, and updated the dimly lit, heavily perfumed stores.
At the same time, Abercrombie’s support for the Trevor Project has “resulted in the A&F brand’s deep commitment to inclusivity, with mental health support serving as a consistent thread through all aspects of this inclusive news and content,” Krug told Adweek.
Indeed, this year one could argue that Abercrombie is not at the bottom of the pile, but near the top of its class.
It began in 2020 with its most comprehensive campaign to date, featuring models from diverse backgrounds in terms of culture, ethnicity, sexuality, and skills. Along the way, she publicly advocated the Black Lives Matter movement and launched the Abercrombie Equity Project, the brand’s initiative for social and racial justice.
“With everything that happens in the world, it has made Abercrombie’s commitment to inclusion and justice even more important,” said Krug. “The marginalization of underserved communities doesn’t go away in a pandemic – it gets bigger.” The Trevor Project, for example, had the highest volume of calls ever from LGBTQIA + youth during the crisis.
This October, Abercrombie’s metamorphosis occurs thanks to a partnership with soccer star and activist Megan Rapinoe, who is hosting a seven-part Instagram miniseries, A&F Conversations x Megan Rapinoe, designed to promote a conversation about mental health to help address the issue eliminate stigma around the subject.
“I think the miniseries is a perfect complement to everything the brand has done over the past few years,” said Krug. “It works so well with our other campaigns, partnerships and initiatives because it aligns with the values of A&F as a brand, but more than that, they all come together to form a narrative that says, ‘You are important. You are seen. You are celebrated. ‘”
It wasn’t a difficult decision for Rapinoe to join the brand. “They want to use the influence they have in the country and around the world to make the world a better place,” she told Adweek in an interview.
Rapinoe views the miniseries interviews, the first of which was conducted with Olympic skier and LGBTQIA + activist Gus Kenworthy, as an opportunity to discuss how we are tackling or avoiding mental health, an issue that is feeling renewed due to the pandemic the urgency shows.
“Things will happen in life that are difficult,” said Rapinoe. “They don’t just go away; They manifest in some way, ”she said, noting that mental health affects everyone’s life to some extent, whether through depression or anxiety, among other things.