After former CEO Mike Jeffries lost his job at Abercrombie & Fitch toward the end of 2014 due to a number of missteps—from overexpansion overseas to creating a climate that discouraged those outside its narrow definition of beauty from either working or shopping at the chain—the brand embarked on what is now a six-year-long journey to overhaul its image, particularly in regard to diversity.
To be fair, the company made some progress under its former chief diversity officer Todd Corley, who served in the role from 2004 to 2014 and was the architect of the brand’s diversity initiative. Ten years ago, it also began working with The Trevor Project, which focuses on mental health support to help curb the overwhelming rates of LGBTQIA+ youth suicide, according to Carey Collins Krug, svp and head of marketing at Abercrombie.
But much work remained. A low point came in 2016 when a number of publications declared it the “most hated” brand in the U.S. after an American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey ranked it last among retailers.
A good deal has changed at the retailer since then, namely a thorough rebranding that ditched shirtless models and loud music, jettisoned the oversized logo in favor of a more subtle one and updated its dimly lit, heavily perfumed stores.
In tandem, Abercrombie’s support of The Trevor Project “blossomed into a comprehensive A&F brand commitment to inclusivity, with mental health support serving as a consistent thread through all aspects of that inclusive messaging and content,” Krug told Adweek.
Indeed, this year it could be argued that rather than being at the bottom of the heap, Abercrombie could be considered near the top of its class.
It began 2020 with its most inclusive campaign yet, featuring models from a wide array of backgrounds in terms of culture, ethnicity, sexuality and ability. And along the way it publicly stepped out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and launched the Abercrombie Equity Project, the brand’s social and racial justice initiative.
“With everything happening in the world, it only made Abercrombie’s commitment to inclusion and equity that much more important,” said Krug. “The marginalization of underserved communities doesn’t go away in a pandemic—it becomes magnified.” The Trevor Project, for example, witnessed its highest call volume ever from LGBTQIA+ youth in crisis.
This October, Abercrombie’s metamorphosis enters a new stage 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, which aims to foster a conversation about mental health to help remove the stigma around the topic.
“I think the miniseries is a perfect complement to all the brand has done in recent years,” Krug explained. “It works so well with our other campaigns, partnerships and initiatives because it aligns with A&F’s values as a brand, but even more, they all come together to form a narrative that says, ‘You matter. You’re seen. You’re celebrated.’”
For Rapinoe, it wasn’t a difficult decision to join hands with the brand. “They want to use the influence they have in the country and across the globe to make world a better place,” she told Adweek in an interview.
Rapinoe views the miniseries interviews, the first of which was with Olympic skier and LGBTQIA+ activist Gus Kenworthy, as an opportunity to discuss how we approach—or avoid—mental health, an issue seeing a renewed sense of urgency due to the pandemic.
“Things are going to happen in life that are difficult,” Rapinoe said. “They don’t just disappear; they manifest themselves in some way,” she said, noting that mental health affects everyone’s life to some degree, whether it’s depression or anxiety, among other symptoms.