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This morning, rumors started swirling that Abercrombie & Fitch is looking for a buyer. By late afternoon, the company confirmed that it is indeed in “preliminary discussions with several parties” regarding a potential sale.
A deal may not happen! But also it definitely might, and it says a lot about how far the brand has fallen from its position at the top of the teen fashion food chain in the ’90s and ’00s.
For two years now, Abercrombie & Fitch — which also owns Hollister and Gilly Hicks — has been trying to remake itself, having severed ties with its controversial former CEO, Michael Jeffries, in late 2014. It got rid of its shirtless men, de-sexualized its advertising imagery, and made its stores both brighter and less stenchy. It got nicer, friendlier, more inclusive. It started piloting a clean new store design in February, which was explicitly designed with shoppers’ comfort in mind and which had a grown-up feel tailor-made for millennials, its new target market.
Mall brands overall are having a tough time right now, but in fiscal 2016, Abercrombie & Fitch’s net sales dropped 9 percent to $1.48 billion, with a steeper 13 percent decrease in the last quarter of the year. (Hollister, with only a 2 percent decline in its sales, fared better.) Across all its brands, the company opened 20 stores and closed another 54. It plans to shutter another 60 or so throughout 2017.
Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t the brand that it was back in the day, which we already knew. But exploring a sale is one more nail in the coffin. Possibly the final one.