Abercrombie logo will disappear as part of turnaround

Retailer will continue closing underperforming stores

  • Paul Sakuma | Associated Press
    Abercrombie & Fitch

August 29, 2014

Say goodbye to Abercrombie & Fitch-logo T-shirts and sweats.

The logos — once the essence of the New Albany-based retailer’s allure to its young customers — are going away, a victim of changing tastes.

Instead, the company will be going after the quick turnaround fashions that have made H&M and the like favorites among the crowd that once flocked to A&F.

In North America, “we’d want to be out of the logo business essentially by next spring,” CEO Mike Jeffries told analysts yesterday during the company’s conference call on its second-quarter earnings report.

The company already has made moves in that direction, although Jeffries couldn’t say what percentage of products on shelves is logo merchandise.

“But if you go into stores and look,” he said, “you have to look pretty hard to find it.”

The move away from logo wear “is a case of, ‘You live by the sword, you die by the sword,’  ” said Deborah Mitchell, a professor of marketing at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “They rode the tide when their brand was viewed as the most super hip.”

That was in the 1990s, when Abercrombie became a dominant brand, “and wearing logos — even across one’s butt in big letters — was considered cool,” she said.

But there has been a cultural change that caught Abercrombie flat-footed, said retail analyst Chris Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies.

“Today, younger people want to create their own identities. They’re shopping a lot more at independent stores, the kind you might find in the Short North,” Boring said. “It’s reflected in popular culture, where one of the most popular TV shows is Big Bang Theory, about a bunch of nerds who don’t fit in.”

Young people today “are dressing ‘high-low’ now — a T-shirt from Target, say, but with a designer handbag,” said Kelly Ruoff, partner and chief creative officer at Columbus marketing company Ologie. “They don’t need to prove it anymore. They’re OK wearing a cheaper item and pairing it with something more expensive.”

Abercrombie’s recent public-relations gaffes might have had an effect on the desirability of wearing the logo, too, Ruoff said. Last year, comments resurfaced from a 2006 interview with Jeffries about why the company doesn't make plus-size women’s clothing — his words sparked criticism and protests.

“There was a time when you wanted to showcase that logo,” Ruoff said. “But this isn’t necessarily a brand that kids want to be associated with.”

Abercrombie is compensating for the decline in the logo business by ramping up its quick-to-market fashion business, which is “working wonderfully well,” Jeffries said. “Fashion tops are performing very well.”

However, the company was dealing with the same issues as other retailers during the quarter — heavy discounting on many items and slow consumer traffic in malls.

The company beat expectations for second-quarter earnings by cutting costs. Sales fell.

U.S. comparable-store sales showed a slight improvement, while international comparable-store sales declined, particularly in Europe. Abercrombie has focused its efforts in the past few years on international growth while closing stores in the United States.

Abercrombie will close 60 U.S. stores this year and plans to close the same number each year for the following two years.

Shares of the company fell $2.13, or 4.8 percent, yesterday to close at $41.87.