The whispers have been circulating for a while. Abercrombie & Fitch, a label once shunned for its toxic culture is having a new moment. This week, a 61-year-old California mom posted herself in an Abercrombie poplin maxi number with a fitted bodice that went viral on TikTok racking up 1.4 million views.
If you’re thinking, “Abercrombie and dresses?” you’re not alone. When the brand was at its height about two decades ago, the look was all casual polos and denim. But after several years of an intense revamping of its business, Abercrombie & Fitch is pulling off a rare retail comeback.
Since 2017 Abercrombie has been under a new female CEO, Fran Horowitz, and working to completely transform the label along with the company’s other brands like Hollister & Co, Gilly Hicks, and Social Tourist to fit a more inclusive and modern identity.
“We’ve evolved the purpose and positioning at each of our brands, executing a turnaround at Abercrombie adults that many, many thought was impossible,” Horowitz said at the company’s most recent investor day in June.
While the brand has partnered with mental health and LGBTQ+ non-profits like The Trevor Project and The Steve Fund, the collaborations came off as wokewashing that didn’t convince skeptical customers. But in the recent, organic viral video, which showed a middle-aged Asian woman in an Abercrombie dress, the message that the company, once known as the domain of preppy white teens, is actually committed to its new values, was really brought home.
Fandom has been growing for the brand particularly on TikTok, where Abercrombie hashtags now number more than 343 million. More important than social media clout, however, is that the company’s women’s business has grown about 40% in the last three years, and around 60% in the US, its largest market, far ahead of the 10% average pace of growth for the US female apparel industry, according to NPD. The company is so confident of its growth it’s forecasting $5 billion in annual revenue by 2025, up from $3.71 billion last year.
Dresses in particular are fast-growing with brand sales in the category globally rising almost 80% since 2017. Last year, it added a more occasions-focused line called the “best dressed guest” collection, just in time to capitalize on all the weddings happening in 2022, now at a four-decade peak. The $70 to $120 price tag for most of the dress collection is highly palatable for consumers who are also growing price-sensitive due to inflation.
“We learned that [the customer] wanted affordable, quality, stylish stresses for all of the celebrations that she was going to,” said Kristin Scott, Abercrombie’s president of global brands. “2021 marked our biggest year in the history of the brand for dresses and we are set to blow that away this year.”
Another area for potential major growth? It recently launched an activewear line called YPB, which stands for Your Personal Best, saying it sees “tremendous upside”.
It also helps that millennials, Abercrombie’s former customer base, are now 26 to 41 years old. The company says its target shopper is 25 years old and Gen Z shoppers are too young to have been impacted by the company’s former misdoings and are more willing overall to accept its new look.
While its reputation may not be fully rehabilitated, Horowitz said that the company fully owns its past and “that we are fundamentally different company today,” she said. “Since the day I joined, we have worked to change the present and positively impact the future and that is a non-negotiable.”