Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries retires amid falling sales and criticism for his impossible beauty standards

 

Maria Tadeo
Tuesday 09 December 2014 17:07
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Mike Jeffries, the controversial chief executive of American retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, has retired effective immediately.

Jeffries, who had been stripped of his chairman role earlier this year, said it was the right time "for new leadership" at the preppy retailer which has seen sales tumble following a string of disappointing financial results.

Known for his youthful looks and blond hair, Jeffries had been at the helm of the company for more than twenty years and was the driving force behind the "Abercrombie" look- young, attractive and athletic.

But the 70-year old had come under intense pressure from shareholders in recent years as sales of its logo heavy clothes began to tumble as consumers turned to fast fashion retailers for runway looks and edgier designs without logos. Abercrombie, known for its preppy polo shirts and half-naked models, found it difficult to compete with the likes of Zara.

Jeffries himself had landed the brand in hot water after he claimed Abercrombie was aimed at all-American, cool kids with a six pack. In an infamous interview with Slate magazine, he argued some customers simply did not fit Abercrombie's model-like aesthetic. He wanted happy kids with "lots of friends" in nice clothes and a perfect smile.

Male models pose outside the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship clothing store

His comments sparked outrage with critics arguing Jefferies was promoting an unhealthy body image, shunning plus-sized kids for skinny girls and beefcakes. Even American television presenter Ellen DeGeneres weighed in on the debate, famously telling Jefferies to go "fitch" himself in her popular television show.

Last year, Abercrombie finally gave in to pressure from investors and critics alike, introducing larger sizes and more colours to win back disenchanted shoppers. The same of shoppers Jeffries had rejected in the past because they weren't cool enough to wear Abercrombie.

The company stepped up effort to revive sales in September following yet another disappointing quarter, announcing it would reduce its use of logos. The decision was seen as step direction but also indicated the extent of Abercrombie's decline, once worn as a symbol of privilege.

Abercrombie said a team led by non-executive chairman Arthur Martinez, who has been named executive chairman, would be responsible for managing day-to-day operations until a new boss is found. Wall Street welcomed the news with shares jumping 6 per cent in pre-market trade in New York.

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