If you’ve ever visited the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 56th Street in Manhattan, you can’t miss Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store. This famous clothing company has catered to millions of teenagers over the years. Abercrombie & Fitch offers consumers a casual, classic, All-American lifestyle brand that doesn’t relentlessly provide quality outfits. However, not many know the Abercrombie & Fitch history. Knowing the brand’s history will help you understand why they’re so popular amongst youths. In this article, we’ll explore Abercrombie & Fitch’s history and how the brand became what it is today.
Abercrombie & Fitch History – How It Started
The brand was founded by David T. Abercrombie and Ezra H. Fitch. Abercrombie is a former miner, prospector, and railroad surveyor. He owned a factory that produced camping equipment in Manhattan. Fitch is one of his customers and was a successful lawyer in Kingston, New York. However, Fitch’s real interest was in the outdoors, and wanted to explore this path.
Together, these men opened a sporting goods store. Amongst the two, Fitch was the visionary. He envisioned a broader clientele than those who only had to camp when working. But unfortunately, the two men had many disagreements and eventually went their separate ways after many arguments.
Abercrombie resigned from the company in 1907 and returned to manufacturing camping equipment. However, Fitch retained the company name and continued to build the company with other partners. In 1909, Fitch mailed out 50,000 copies of a 456-page catalog that almost bankrupted the company. However, this proved to be a successful strategy as there was a flood of orders right after.
In 1917, Abercrombie & Fitch moved from their present store to a 12-story building on Madison Avenue at East 45th Street. This was a location the company described as ‘Where the Blazed Trailed Crosses the Boulevard.’ The new location featured a luxuriously furnished log cabin that Fitch made his townhouse. By this time, Fitch had already established the company’s reputation as the go-to for the sporting elite.
The company was famous for providing Theodore Roosevelt with all the equipment he needed for an African Safari. The company also outfitted polar expeditions planned by Roald Amundsen and Admiral Richard Byre. One of the company’s customers was also Ernest Hemingway. Almost every president, from Roosevelt to Gerald Ford, bought a thing or two from the store.
The 1920s and 1930s Depression
Fitch retired in 1928 and sold his interests in the company to James S. Cobb, his brother-in-law. This made Cobb the president of the company, while an employee Otis L. Guernsey became the company’s vice president. In his first year as president of the company, Cobb bought a New York business similar to Abercrombie & Fitch. Von Lengerke & Detmold was a New York business famous for its European-made sporting guns and fishing tackle. The Chicago branch of the business became a subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch. However, it continued to use its name till 1959. The company also purchased Griffin & Howe, a gunsmith shop, in 1930. The company added the merchandise from both acquisitions to the Madison Avenue Store.
At this point, Abercrombie & Fitch sold outdoor and sporting equipment that didn’t focus on camping, fishing, hunting, and exploration alone. The company also offers polo, skating, tennis, and golfing equipment. They also offered different boots, outdoor clothing, shoes, and more for men and women. Additionally, their product offerings included pocket cutlery, cameras, and indoor games. The company became the center of the growing burgeoning mah-jongg craze in 1920. It was the place to purchase the popular hip flask.
Also, the 1920s in Abercrombie & Fitch history was when the company opened a summer-only store in Hyannis for the yachting set. The brand’s sales and income were steadily increasing. The figures continued to increase. However, by 1933 when Depression hit, the company recorded a loss. Subsequent years were profitable, and the company launched a golf and shooting school in the store. By 1939, Abercrombie & Fitch referred to themselves as The Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World. They offered the most extensive and most valuable collection of firearms. They also had a wide assortment of fishing flies.
Abercrombie & Fitch History: Mid-Century
The company’s profits were at the highest in 1947 when they reached $682,894; this was a record. The company launched a new store in San Francisco and soon after opened a store in San Francisco. It didn’t take long for the sports goods company to open winter-only stores in Sarasota and Palm Beach. They also opened summer stores in Southampton, Bayhead, and New Jersey. Guernsey succeeded Cobb as President and explained that the brand’s mission was to focus on the elitist. The brand’s ideal customers did not care about cost but sought the finest quality.
The New York Store effectively remained the company’s flagship store. By the end of the 1950s, the main floor now held heads of buffalo, moose, caribou, elk, and many other big games like stuffed fishes of various sizes and the elephant’s foot wastebaskets. The company also sold differing contraptions for indoor and outdoor pursuits. A corner of the store became home to cat and dog items. The basement became a shooting range, and the mezzanine held paraphernalia for skiing, skydiving, lawn games, and archery.
The second to fifth floor was home to various climates and terrain clothing. The sixth floor was a picture gallery and held a bookstore that concentrated on sporting themes. It was also home to the watch repair facility and the gold school. The company also reserved a desk for fly and bait-casting instructors on this level.
The Oshman Decade
Oshman bought Abercrombie & Fitch in 1978 and then opened a store with its name in Beverly Hills in 1979. The company mailed out a 52-page catalog that propelled the company further. After the catalog, the company outfitted Jack Lemmon, an actor, for an Alaskan fishing trip. They also outfitted Dodger baseball star Steve Garvey for grouse hunting in Minnesota. The company also launched a bigger Dallas store in 1980. The store featured $40,000 elephant guns and a Runabout sports convertible that sold for $20,775.
Abercrombie & Fitch made its way back to New York City in 1984 and opened in Lower Manhattan. As 1986 drew to a close, the chain had over 26 stores, including a second store in Manhattan. The brand’s net sales reached $40 million and were estimated to reach $45 million. The new Abercrombie & Fitch stores owned by Oshman stocked up on new hunting and fishing supplies, exercise machines, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and many more items that were sure to catch consumers’ attention.
The brand’s clothing line included business and casual outfits like sportswear. The brand also had a gift department that offered a vast range of goods. As the store became more popular, it appeared in the media. For example, there was a positive assessment of the company by Chain Store Age Executive in September 1986. However, Forbes appraised the brand six months later and was less upbeat.
Abercrombie & Fitch History – Expansion and Independence in the 1990s
In 1988, The Limited, Inc purchased 25 of Abercrombie & Fitch’s stores from Oshman. The company moved its corporate headquarters to Ohio and cleared out inventory. At this point, the store placed more emphasis on apparel, with 65% of its merchandise being men’s sportswear and furnishings. 20% were womenswear, and the remaining 15% went to gifts like nature books and grooming products.
In 1992, Michael Jefferies became the president of Abercrombie & Fitch. At the time, Abercrombie & Fitch had an annual sale record of $50 million. However, in 1992, this amount increased to $85 million. It kept going higher under Jefferies’ leadership, hitting $165 million in 1994. By 1995, the store had 67 Abercrombie & Fitch stores. The company also had new records for its parent company’s merchandise margin rate and profitability.
From the beginning of Jefferies’ time as the company’s president in Abercrombie & Fitch history, he wanted to make the company a top choice for American youth. This was because it was a demographic that was growing at a quick pace. Therefore, he replaced conservative clothing lines with casualwear and made it available at a reasonably high price point. Soon the company had a retail culture that focused mainly on youths, having fun, and looking good. Jefferies focused on making the company keep in touch with the demands of young Americans. To achieve this, he hired executives and designers that understood the youth’s preference in music, clothing, and entertainment.
The company also started publishing its magazine that displayed its clothing lines and also featured articles on music, pop culture, sex, and other favorite teen topics. In addition, their ad agency started adding elements of sexiness to the brand’s ads to appeal to the youths.
Abercrombie & Fitch History: Becoming a Cool Brand
With Jefferies at the helm of operations, Abercrombie & Fitch became a huge success. Once again, it began to attract the industry’s interest and drew comments about its staying power from industry analysts. These analysts believed that Abercrombie & Fitch would lose fall from favor someday. The company now had heated competition from brands like American Eagle Outfitters, who offered similar products at a lesser price.
Abercrombie & Fitch continued its provocative advertising method as youths began to refer to it as a cool brand. Its Christmas catalog in 1999 featured nude models in its content. An outrage followed its release, and the company placed a proof of age requirement before people could purchase the catalog. This approach impressed many customers as the company recorded higher sales and entered the new millennium with a loyal following of young customers. According to a survey by Teenage Research Unlimited, American kids ranked Abercrombie & Fitch the sixth coolest company, even ahead of Levi’s and Nintendo. The brand also launched a children’s store to broaden its clientele in 1999. To date, Abercrombie & Fitch remains one of the best clothing brands for teens.
Abercrombie & Fitch went from being an outdoor gear store to a retailer that offered casual wear and appealed to the youth through pop-culture and sex-themed ads and catalogs. This article provided insight into Abercrombie & Fitch history and the retailer’s journey into stardom in the fashion industry.