Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has been battling one public relations problem after another for several years now. From its leadership to its advertising, the brand just couldn’t seem to steer clear of controversy. Add that reality to the fact of drastically reduced mall sales, and the brand was in a real tailspin.
Now, it seems, the company has come full circle in an attempt to get back in the good graces of the latest generation of consumers. That gambit? A line of gender-neutral kids’ clothing. So, instead of separate items for “junior” and “princess,” A&F will have items that either boys or girls would be happy wearing. According to early press releases, the line is called “Everybody Collection,” and it will include an “assortment of clothing in 25 styles, including camouflage prints, crew neck shirts, and bomber jackets.” There will also be accompanying items such as t-shirts in bright colors. The biggest difference consumers can expect will be in the sizes.
There will be only one system, geared toward children between the ages of 5 and 14. The size of “girls” clothes compared to “boys” clothes has been a hot-button social issue for shoppers, especially Millennials who are first-time parents, for a few years now. Moms and dads were unhappy to see such major size differences in girl’s clothes from one brand to another, and they asked that retailers do something to address the discrepancies.
Abercrombie spokespeople say the new line was created in response to customer requests. Stacia Anderson, brand president of Abercrombie & Fitch and Abercrombie Kids, told the media: “Parents and their kids don’t want to be confined to specific colors and styles, depending on whether shopping for a boy or a girl…”
Other retailers seem to agree, as several have also launched gender-neutral collections. H&M began offering unisex denim, and Target stopped using “boys” and “girls” to define toy categories. But, for Abercrombie, the stakes may be much higher than for these other brands. Due to slumping sales and bad PR over the past several years, the company has been struggling. Last July, the brand took another major gut punch when it was announced a planned sale was being scrapped, sending stock plummeting to a 17-year low.
Now, though, A&F is trying to use a combination of public relations and marketing to get people back in the stores. Will this move be enough to change customers’ minds about the brand? It’s too early to tell, but it’s easy to wonder if they have other ideas.