Abercrombie & Fitch relaunches its denim line as it attempts to overhaul its image

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A difficult year for retail has forced many classic brands to reshape their images, sometimes with extreme measures. For Abercrombie & Fitch that means changing one of its most important products: denim. For the first time in 15 years, the brand has completely updated its line of jeans, but that’s just one way in which the brand has been changing its image amidst a challenging retail market.

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Photo courtesy of Abercrombie & Fitch

For Abercrombie, the choice to renovate its denim line was an obvious one. “Denim is an intrinsic part of this brand’s heritage. We want to continue to be known for it, so we knew we had to make it exceptional,” Aaron Levine, VP of Design at Abercrombie & Fitch, told Fashion Network. “There is a very dedicated and passionate group of designers at Abercrombie & Fitch and they obsess over fit, fabric, and finish to ensure we are offering our customer the best product.”

The new denim line utilizes the latest technology and fabrication, including a 360-degree stretch. But at a glance. one of the most obvious changes from Abercrombie’s previous denim offerings is the absence of the brand’s distinctive stitching on the back pockets. According to Levine, who joined Abercrombie in 2015, the removal was a response to their customers’ changing tastes. “We are constantly talking and listening to our customers; we are literally making changes based on their feedback. Our customers don’t want to be defined by their clothes; they just want to look great, and be comfortable,” he said.

The removal of the back pocket stitching isn’t such a surprise, considering the other classic imagery the brand has removed from its merchandise and stores in the past few years. In 2014, Abercrombie & Fitch chose to do away with its iconic moose logo, which once served as a status symbol for those who wore the brand. In July of this year, the brand removed its signature “Fierce” scent from its stores. Instead of the heady scent that marked the store during much of the 2000s, shoppers will instead be greeted with the smell of “Ellwood,” one of three new gender-neutral fragrances that are more in keeping with the current predilection for gender-neutral or unisex fashion.

The changes come as a difficult retail market has forced many retailers to shutter their stores or declare bankruptcy in the past few years. Among those are brands with a strong presence in malls and following among teens such as True Religion, Rue21 and Aeropostale. In May, Abercrombie, which owns both the Abercrombie and Hollister brands, announced it was considering putting itself up for sale. By July however, the Ohio-based company had already shelved the possibility and said it would continue to develop itself as a standalone enterprise.

Despite the difficult market, Levine says the brand’s design process remains focused on the clothes rather than finances. “We are keeping our heads down and focusing on making exceptional product at an exceptional value and offering the ultimate casual luxury brand experience,” he told Fashion Network.

The fashion industry has also changed significantly in recent years with regards to diversity and inclusion, with many brands putting those values at the forefront of their strategies. Stacia Andersen, Abercrombie & Fitch Brand President, told Fashion Network that diversity and inclusiveness have been longstanding principles in the company and notes that the company has held a perfect score from Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index for more than a decade and has worked with LGBTQ non-profit The Trevor Project since 2012.

In the past, the brand has nonetheless suffered from criticism due to its lack of inclusivity. It faced particular backlash when comments made by CEO Mike Jeffries made in a 2006 interview that Abercrombie was only marketed to “cool, good-looking people” resurfaced in the press in 2013. Amidst widespread critcism against the brand for failing to carry clothes above a size 10, Jeffries addressed the prior comment as being taken out of context, but did not apologize for their implication. Abercrombie increased its size range in November 2013, and Jeffries stepped down as CEO at the end of 2014.

Accusations of exclusionist policies extended to Abercrombie’s hiring practices as well. In 2009, Samantha Elauf sued the retailer for religious discrimination, claiming she was denied a job at one of its stores due to the fact that she wore a hijab. Elauf won her lawsuit against Abercrombie before the Supreme Court in 2015.

More and more brands and retailers including Levi’s, Zara and Stella McCartney have similarly made sustainability a part of their business and marketing strategies, and Andersen says Abercrombie recognizes its responsibility to implement environmentally friendly practices. Naturally, that extends to its denim line. “This fall, A&F will carry sustainable denim within our women’s collection. These styles use less water to achieve the desired wash, and since April, the production of the denim has saved over 38,000 gallons of water,” Andersen said.

Of course, the most important question is whether or not the clothes sell. The revamped Fall 2017 denim line is available now at Abercrombie stores and online. It includes high-waist cropped styles, low-rise boyfriend jeans and ultra-skinny cuts, with all jeans priced under $100.

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