One-time powerhouse clothing brand among millennial teens, Abercrombie & Fitch, just posted its third straight quarter of losses. If you understand Gen Z, it’s easy to understand why.

Among other factors, the brand has never recovered from the 2014 comments of then-CEO Michael Jeffries, when he clearly positioned Abercrombie as an exclusive, “cool kids only” brand.

“A lot of people don’t belong  [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely!”


Jeffries also came under fire for discriminatory hiring practices. It’s hard to believe how out-of-touch he was with his target consumers, teens and young 20-somethings. But then again, he clearly had his head stuck in the brand-obsessed 90s! Evolve or die.

Also, Abercrombie faced stiff competition from athleisure and “fast-fashion” brands (Forever 21, H&M, Zara), where style and affordability meet, and huge logos are nowhere to be seen. With limited budgets, teens are value-conscious and want to spend on brands that reflect their values. Clearly, Abercrombie falls short in both areas.

“Abercrombie isn’t in style. They don’t have a lot of options – it’s plain and boring, and unpopular.” – Gabby Gutierrez, 13 (disclosure: quote comes from my very opinionated and style-obsessed daughter)

There are other factors too. Teens are spending less on fashion than they have in the past, and more on electronics and technology. And they’re spending less overall. Remember, most would rather save their money than spend it immediately. (Music to this Z-mom’s ears!)

I haven’t spent much time looking at Abercrombie’s digital or social strategies, which also can make-or-break brands with Gen Z. But even if they’re doing everything right online, I’m not sure the brand can overcome it’s past indiscretions. They’ll have to do more than launch a new brand campaign. (Gen Z can sniff out self-serving campaigns and marketing ploys from a mile away.) They’ll have to overhaul their entire culture and approach. Are they willing to go to such lengths?

Time will tell.