During my undergrad years, Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) was the brand that every hormonal teenager and early 20-something wanted to wear. Every piece of clothing manufactured by A&F had either its renowned moose logo or its stylish, cursive font prominently emblazoned front and centre for the world to see. When you bought an A&F t-shirt, you paid a premium because of what the logo meant – it was a status symbol. You bought into the “Casual Luxury” trend. Essentially, you were paying to be part of the cool crowd. Admittedly, I was a pretty regular customer myself. I bought into the brand and what it said about me as a young adult.
Fast-forward a few years to my lifestyle as a “yuppie” and you’ll find that I have outgrown the A&F brand, now preferring simpler, often cheaper, clothing styles. So when I learned that the now struggling retailer will drop the very logos that were built to signify luxury from its clothing, I was not incredibly surprised and it actually felt like a natural shift. The members of Gen Y, now either approaching or currently in their late 20’s and early 30’s, have shifting priorities and thus, a shifting fashion sense. This general shift has our group preferring unmarked clothing, and as strange as it might sound, saving money is now the cool thing to do. Even members of the loosely dubbed “Gen Z”, now in their teenage years, are starting to follow suit.
It’s incredible to see how much of an influence young people, such as those in Gen Y, have on business and economics. As our priorities move, businesses inevitably move with us. These sorts of trends and observations are the bread and butter of David Foot, author of Boom, Bust & Echo and a renowned U of T professor whose population economics class I had the privilege to take. In his book and his studies, Foot analyzes the effects that changes in population segments have on different economies, with a particular focus on the strength of the Baby Boomer population. The children of said boomers, coined the “Echo” or otherwise Gen Y, are projected to have a similar level of influence. The shift to which A&F is currently trying to adapt appears to me to be exactly the type of trend that can be largely attributed to population economics. That is, while the “Echo” formed a significant portion of their customer base and was key to A&F’s expansion success in the mid-to-late 2000’s, this same group is now leaving the brand and moving on to newer trends, leaving A&F with not much choice but to follow its competition.
As for whether or not A&F’s logo-removal strategy will work, I am skeptical not only because of the natural population shift previously discussed, but also because it seems inconsistent with their brand. It’s not so much that the logo significantly matters per se, but rather the associations that people make with it that matter, which is especially true for a product that is purchased primarily for its expressive benefits. In other words, customers paid to have that logo on their clothing because of what it said about their status; A&F was recognized precisely for its cool, hip, sexy, “casual luxury” style. Removal of the moose would be akin to removing the alligator from a Lacoste polo or driving a Mercedes without the tri-star displayed on the hood of your car.
Unfortunately though, the problem is that wearing snobby premium brands is not as cool as it used to be. The Gen Y individual is a savvy, resourceful consumer who now enjoys shopping more wisely and considering cheaper alternatives. It also doesn’t help that A&F has often come under significant scrutiny for its racy marketing that promotes sexualized images to teens, especially in today’s world when every action on social media and every comment made by someone with a high profile (e.g. the CEO himself) is monitored, interpreted, and re-broadcasted to the world.
So what’s the solution for A&F? Hard to say but their move towards unmarked clothing has them acting more as followers rather than the leaders they once were. With a logo or not, their best bet is to adapt to the upcoming Gen Z if they wish to continue marketing to young teens. Otherwise, they will need to explore a more mature fashion trend to retain their Gen Y customers.