Gone are the days when Abercrombie & Fitch, Co. stood for scantily-clad models and a “cool kid” mentality.
That’s one of the lessons LCLD Fellows took away from the Learning Experience hosted by the company on September 21, 2017, which emphasized Abercrombie’s strategic emphasis on inclusiveness and making its brand accessible to all consumers.
From their early morning arrival on campus, it was clear to the 30 Fellows who attended that this was going to be a one-of-a-kind Learning Experience. Surrounded by woods in New Albany, Ohio, Abercrombie headquarters felt more like a wilderness lodge than a corporate nerve center, built around an outdoor gathering space for employees with a fire pit in the middle. As the Fellows watched, Abercrombie employees whizzed around on scooters, available at the entrance of each building.
After breakfast, the Fellows toured campus, including a number of mock Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co. stores that are exact replicas of those in shopping malls, where A&F experts experiment with the ideal placement of merchandise. There Fellows also got a sneak peek at upcoming Fall merchandise.
Then the Fellows gathered in a meeting room where they heard from Stacia Andersen, Brand President of Abercrombie & Fitch, and Jessi Passalacqua, Vice President of Stores, about the company’s transformation over the past several years.
Both leaders were candid about the reinvention of the Abercrombie brand, and how the company has changed its structure to focus more on the customer and less on image. Andersen told Fellows that her leadership priorities include empowering employees and modeling authenticity.
Fellows next heard from executives at Hollister Co., a subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch that targets younger consumers. Kristin Scott, Brand President, and James Roth, Vice President of Stores, discussed Hollister’s journey from Abercrombie’s shadow into a distinct brand identity focused on the teenage market. They showed commercials and marketing pieces demonstrating Hollister’s commitment to appealing to the diverse consumer.
Stacia Marie Jones, Vice President, Associate General Counsel, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and a 2016 Fellow, also welcomed the Fellows and discussed changes at Abercrombie & Fitch since the 2003 Gonzalez class action lawsuit that resulted in a 2005-2011 Consent Decree.
Fellows also heard from Abercrombie’s in-house Intellectual Property (IP) group about protecting the brand’s image through its trademarks and copyrights. Assistant Legal Counsel Jose Bautista and Vice President Jacob Kramer discussed how the company reviews all customer-facing products and marketing materials, as well as considerations that go into deciding whether to enforce their IP. Shane Berry, Group Vice President, Asset Protection also discussed Abercrombie’s efforts in regards to sustainability, loss prevention, security, and other operational matters.
The afternoon ended with two events that showcased Abercrombie’s commitment to diversity.
The first was a Language of Leadership conversation with Robert Bostrom, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Abercrombie & Fitch, conducted by LCLD president Robert Grey. Bostrom discussed his background, including three “turning point” moments in his career related to diversity. Once, at a law firm, he and a non-diverse group of male partners made a pitch to a company whose legal representatives were all women and diverse. “It didn’t go well,” he recalled. “But it opened my eyes to the importance of diversity in building a successful law practice.”
The day ended with a panel of attorneys from the General Counsel’s office of Nationwide Insurance, who provided further insight into diversity initiatives and roadblocks from a company’s perspective. The panel included Linda Lu, Senior Vice President, and Anthony Sharett, Marketing and Emerging Businesses Legal Leader and a 2013 Fellow. It was moderated by Carl Smallwood, a partner with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP, an LCLD Member firm.
The evening before the Learning Experience, the Fellows were treated to a welcome reception at The Kitchen in Columbus, Ohio hosted by Vorys. Several Abercrombie designers set up shop at the event, and personally embroidered denim for the Fellows.