Calling all average-looking Americans without six-packs or elaborate grooming habits: Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) is now hiring regular people.
Starting Friday, the struggling youth-focused retailer is shedding its infamous "Look Policy" for clerks, which stipulated how workers should look by banning certain types of manicures (no French-tip styles, please) and hair-care products, according to Bloomberg News. The stores were also notorious for recruiting good-looking people who shopped there, with management preferring to call clerks "models."
"We've put the customer at the center of the business," Christos Angelides, president of the company's Abercrombie brand, told Bloomberg.
The "Look Policy" was the brainchild of former chief executive Mike Jeffries, who left the company late last year after developing the clothing chain's racy reputation for publishing catalogs filled with naked or scantily clad models, who were all young and ripped. The policy got the company in legal hot water, thanks to a lawsuit that ended up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in February over a Muslim teen who was denied a job because she wears a head scarf.
According to a former employee at one store, workers were sorted by appearance, with thinner and conventionally better-looking clerks sent to the front of the store, while minorities and overweight or less attractive workers were sent to the stock room.
Such policies grew out of Jeffries' desire to portray Abercrombie & Fitch as the place where "cool" kids shopped, with the former CEO telling Salon in 2006 that the company had a reason for hiring attractive sales clerks. Sex appeal, he said, is "almost everything. That's why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that."
The problem is, of course, that most consumers are neither cool, nor good looking, and many consumers ended up feeling excluded or even irked by the company's relentless lookism. At the same time, rivals such as H&M shouldered their way into the teen market, offering fashionable clothes without being as polarizing.
Jeffries' "only cool kids allowed" strategy wasn't working, with profit declining 5.1 percent last year and same-stores sales plunging 10 percent last quarter.
Aside from nixing the "Look Policy," other changes are afoot, according to Bloomberg. The lighting in the stores has been turned up, the music toned down, and the cologne scent reined in. Sexualized marketing images will disappear from shopping bags, in-store photos and gift cards, while shirtless young men won't greet new shoppers at store openings.
As chairman Arthur Martinez told the publication, "We exist to serve shareholders, but if we don't serve the customer, the shareholders will never get rewarded."