There’s been a big social media dust up this week, after the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch made comments about limiting the sizes he sells so only the beautiful people shop there. Turns out, according to Forbes, Abercrombie is already floundering against increasingly hip competition, so this shouldn’t help them much.
The interesting question this raises is one brought up by Erika Napoletano on Facebook today, which is whether anyone should care- in fact- should we praise A & F CEO for making his marketing crystal clear? Now that we know this is where he stands and how he runs his companies, the public has a clear choice and gets to vote with its pocketbook.
We all make decisions when we shop- and about whether the clothes we choose and wear reflect how we feel about ourselves. Our clothes reflect everything from our comfort, style to values, which is why changing brands when values seem to change becomes tricky.
For example, there are certain stores I don’t want to shop in, because to me, they represent my Mom and an older group of consumers. This is not different than when I shunned minivans when we first had kids, but eventually capitulated to that or a mini SUV, when practicality outran our quest to pretend we weren’t getting older. When I shop for my kids, ever since they were little, the goal has been to find things that were not horrifically expensive for growing kids, while finding things that “didn’t make them look like orphans” as my Grandmother would have put it. We bought things from Gymboree because the cotton was soft and things were well made and lasted through two boys worth of wear before passing them on. We shopped at the Children’s Place and Gap Kids because the clothes were also well made, attractive, and didn’t force my kids to decide who they were when they put on a shirt.
However, once middle school rolled around and then high school, clothes started to become more of the statement about who you are and what group you hang with. They start to telegraph things about your family. With boys, there’s less chance of the “indecent exposure” problem, but you still have to choose a style of sorts. Are you going to go for the athletic look? Works well for an athletic kid, but harder to pull off for the video game crowd. Prep? There’s a thin line these days between Prep and “Fabulous”, so that’s a tough one. Skater/Surfer dude? Works well with peers, but it can rapidly lead to the adults in your life assuming that you are a smart aleck and disrespectful. There’s always Land’s End and LL Bean, but this starts to look like school uniforms or like your mom is dressing you for some golf match, and it doesn’t work for many kids after grade school. Outdoorsy is a close cousin of athletic, and is pretty safe. Old Navy and the Gap, cousin stores, are okay, but some of the “in” things are pretty seasonal, making for a short-lived closet.
Matching a kid to a style isn’t easy, because it’s often about trying to find a Brand or Store where you can consistently find stuff that a)fits and b) works with who your kid is as a person. Once we figured out the A&F worked for one of our kids, shopping and decisions became easy. However, now that the CEO has come out and said something I think we all knew anyway- that beautiful people only need shop there- I feel funny about continuing to purchase stuff from that store. It will telegraph a whole new meaning, louder than ever. This one will be more “I’m shallow and I know it and Flaunt it” – the boy equivalent of “Living in a Barbie World” that’s something I can’t get behind.
So when the next season rolls around and the kids need new clothes, my choices are going to change as to where I’m spending my money. My brand decision will change, because it no longer reflects my values. The question is- what will be the next brand we settle in with, and how long will that last?