The Abercrombie & Fitch CEO and Branding 101

A quote from the 2006 interview with with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after 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. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

A May 3, 2013, Business Insider story about’s old interview got everyone’s attention, provoking the recent intense backlash for Jeffries’s statement. Ellen Degeneres spoke up. Teen activists planned a protest. Women’s blogs like and (just search the sites for “Abercrombie & Fitch”) published countless articles.

The quote incensed the body- and self-acceptance movements.

Now, I’m a huge proponent of body- and self-acceptance—read previous posts for proof. And as a nerdy, awkward preteen and teen, I didn’t meet Jeffries’s parameters. Yet I wouldn’t have worn what Abercrombie & Fitch sells, anyway: I tended toward the skate-punk look in high school, not the cool-kid prepster look.

But here’s the deal:

I take no offense to Jeffries’s comment. He shouldn’t have said it in such a way in such an interview, because it embarrasses his core audience, who may now feel that wearing Abercrombie & Fitch clothing promotes a lack of acceptance.

But what he said wasn’t wrong.

I’m a branding person. Regularly, I counsel brands that they should not try to be everything to everyone. Brands must determine who to target with their products and services and must then cater specifically to that audience.

What Jeffries said? It’s in line with branding best practices. It’s business 101.

And Abercrombie & Fitch—outside hiccups related to the recent backlash—has succeeded in targeting exactly the kids Jeffries described. They covet his clothing and wear it proudly. It fits their nascent, developing identities—and tween and teen fashion choices are all about fitting into a chosen pack.

As for the kids who don’t fit the Abercrombie & Fitch target: They wouldn’t shop there, anyway. Just as the cool kids would have turned away from my high school fashion choices, I shunned the “popular and beautiful” crowd’s daily wear. It didn’t fit my developing identity.

No harm done.

Your thoughts about Jeffries’s statement?