’90s Cool Kids Clothing Not Selling Well Today

It’s Fashion Week in NYC, and New York magazine’s issue this week is all about the things we wear and the businesses that sell them. One particularly interesting piece comes from Matthew Shaer, who reports about Abercrombie and Fitch’s struggle to keep up in today’s market where “fast fashion” sells.

Abercrombie’s business model has focused on trying to sell clothes to teens who wanted to fit in:

Should there be any misconceptions about the intended consumer, the company was reluctant to discount their merchandise or to even invest significantly in an outlet strategy. Abercrombie clothing was aspirational. It was created, Jeffries has said, for the “attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” Jeffries has subsequently been pilloried for these remarks, but he was exploiting an understood weakness of the teenage shopper at the time — they wanted to belong.

That sales tactic isn’t working anymore. As one professor at Michigan’s business school who has studied Abercrombie says: “Today’s teens are no longer interested in ‘the elite, cool-kid thing’ to the extent that they once were. ‘This generation is about inclusiveness and valuing diversity. It’s about not looking down on people.’”

I remember being in college when Abercrombie released a line of racist T-shirts featuring men in “rice-paddy hats and cartoonishly slanted eyes” that the company pulled off shelves after a media firestorm, and that has always left a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to the retailer. Abercrombie has since tried to launch a line for adults (a store called “29 Ruehl”), which failed to sell.

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