Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Fran Horowitz Responds to Netflix Documentary Exploring the Company’s Controversial Past

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Fran Horowitz is responding to the newly released Netflix documentary exploring the controversial history of the retail chain.

In a statement posted to the retailer’s social media accounts on Tuesday morning, Horowitz wrote that the company “owns and validates” that there were exclusionary and inappropriate actions under former leadership.

“Since I became CEO in 2017, we’ve overhauled Abercrombie and transformed with intention into a place of belonging,” Horowitz wrote. “We’ve evolved the organization, including making changes in management, prioritizing representation, implementing new policies, re-envisioning our store experiences and updating the fit, size-range and style of our products.”

Horowitz added, “We’re focused on inclusivity—and continuing that transformation is our enduring promise to you, our community. Because without you, we wouldn’t be who we are now. Thank you for being on this journey with us.”

An Abercrombie & Fitch Co. customer leaves the store at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif., Monday, May 15, 2006. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is scheduled to report results after the markets close. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
An Abercrombie & Fitch Co. customer leaves the store at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif., Monday, May 15, 2006.

This statement follows the March 31 response from the company following the release of the film’s trailer. At the time, the retailer said, “While the problematic elements of that era have already been subject to wide and valid criticism over the years, we want to be clear that they are actions, behaviors and decisions that would not be permitted or tolerated at the company now…Thank you for giving us the chance to show you who Abercrombie is today, and for being a part of who we will be tomorrow.”

Called “White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch,” the new film by Alison Klayman debuted on the streaming platform on Tuesday and surveys the popularity and ruin of the once coveted “all-American” brand.

Founded in 1892 as an outdoor retailer often frequented by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway, Abercrombie & Fitch has seen quite the evolution. In 1988, retail mogul Leslie Wexler, who helmed Limited Brands at the time, purchased the struggling brand from Oshman’s Sporting Goods and refocused the business on apparel. In 1992, Mike Jeffries took the helm as CEO and reposition the brand for a teen audience.

Under the direction of Jeffries, the retailer grew to conquer malls in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s with gorgeous models, provocative ad campaigns by photographer Bruce Weber, pulsing dance beats, and a fierce scent. The outfitter of “cool kids” at the time rivaled the sexiness of Calvin Klein and the prep clothing at Polo Ralph Lauren.

In Abercrombie & Fitch's newest publication to promote itself, at top left in this photo, most of the models wear clothes. The photo essay along with a national advertising campaign _ unusual for the company _ represents a major shift for Abercrombie, whose old Quarterly along with some of its clothing designs have offended religious groups, feminists, minorities and others. The old Quarterly is shown at lower right and a recent magazine ad is at top right. (AP Photo/Gary Gardiner)
A look at Abercrombie & Fitch’s sexy advertising of the past.

According to Bloomberg, when Jeffries took over, Abercrombie & Fitch had 36 stores and was making $50 million in sales. In the 1996 fiscal year, when it went public, Abercrombie & Fitch had about 125 stores, sales of $335 million, and was making $25 million in profits.

But while the brand was running white hot, its popular “all-American” image began burning out in the mid 2000s as controversy and lawsuits came to light surrounding its exclusionary marketing and discriminatory hiring practices.

Among the lawsuits the retailer faced included the 2015 case that reached the United States Supreme Court where Samantha Elauf, a Muslim woman, claimed she was denied a job at an Abercrombie store in Tulsa, Okla. because she wore a headscarf to her job interview.

According to FN sister publication The Hollywood Reporter, Elauf appears in the documentary, where she recounted her journey to the Supreme Court and noted, ironically, how the only dissenting opinion came from Justice Clarence Thomas.

As for now, though, the retailer reiterated to FN a list of changes it has made since the “retirement” of Jeffries in 2014. Among these changes include the 2015 elimination of Abercrombie’s “look policy,” which stated how store associates should appear while at work including appropriate haircuts, footwear, make-up, nails, and apparel standards.

Models and greeters Stephan Hoffman, left, and Joey Dixon greet shoppers at the entrance to an Abercrombie & Fitch store in The Grove shopping area in Los Angeles Thursday, April 12, 2007. The outlook for consumer spending turned hazy Thursday as warnings of weak sales ahead overshadowed better-than-expected March sales at many of the nation's big retailers. Even Gap Inc., which has been mired in a sales slump, reported better-than-expected results. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Models greet shoppers at the entrance to an Abercrombie & Fitch store in The Grove shopping area in Los Angeles Thursday, April 12, 2007.

What’s more, in 2018, Abercrombie Kids launched its first gender-inclusive collection and discontinued the practice of airbrushing its models company-wide. In 2019, Abercrombie launched a denim line for “curvier” bodies, partnered with The Trevor Project, and joined the United Nations Global Impact Initiative and the Better Cotton Initiative. And in 2020, the retailer launched its own social and racial justice initiative called The Abercrombie Equity Project, among other things.

The company has since gone on to launch several other inclusive programs in 2021 and 2022 as it works to correct its previous actions and has unveiled an updated store design and product mix as it seeks to return to profit.

Last month, the youth specialty retailer, impacted by higher costs of freight, Omicron and inventory delays, reported a drop in fourth-quarter net income to $65.5 million, compared to $82.4 million in the year-ago period.

For the year, however, Abercrombie returned to profitability, generating net income of $263 million, compared to a loss of $114 million in 2020, which was heavily impacted by the pandemic and tax charges.

Bare-chested models pose in front of the Abercrombie & Fitch shop on the Champs Elysees in Paris Thursday May 12, 2011, as of the promotion of the opening of the new U.S. brand shop in Paris.(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
Bare-chested models pose in front of the Abercrombie & Fitch shop on the Champs Elysees in Paris Thursday, May 12, 2011.
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