A new Netflix documentary explores Abercrombie & Fitch's (A&F) pop culture reign in the late ’90s and early 2000s and how it thrived on exclusion. Titled 'White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch', it debuts on Netflix on April 19th. The documentary focuses on the various scandals that have swept the label, starting with the 2004 class-action that accused it of discrimination against blacks, Latinos, Asians and office workers. It also discusses the testimony of a Muslim woman who was denied employment in 2015 due to wearing a headscarf. "They did not invent discrimination and asocial differences, they only bundled them up," said one journalist who was interviewed.
Exclusion was at the heart of A&F's success
The fashion industry's embrace of inclusivity appear anachronistic and often offensive and out-of-touch with A&F's former strategies. An employee claims the brand had a manual which stipulated the physical characteristics employees required to have in order to be hired. "Recruiting good looking people" was a diktat.
A&F responded to the release on social media, stating the documentary covers "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, behaviours 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."
Back in the 90s under CEO Mike Jeffries A&F was best known for its sexualised advertising, Bruce Weber photographed catalogs and topless in-store male models. It thrived on exclusion, hiring staff for their appearance, most of whom had model looks and muscular body types. It wasn’t until 2014 when Jeffries was relinquished from his duties and stepped down that the company began a turnaround of its practices.
Christos Angelides, A&F president, was abruptly fired in 2015, marking a new era for the retailer pivoting to become a more inclusionary brand, workplace and business. In 2017 A&F appointed Fran Horowitz to the role of CEO, a position she still holds 5 years later.
A&F reported net sales of 1.2 billion dollar in Q4, up 4 percent from last year but down 2 percent compared to 2019.
Article sources: Marketing Interactive, Bloomberg, Pambianco