While Abercrombie & Fitch was founded in 1892, the company struggled throughout the 1980s until Mike Jeffries joined as CEO. He was credited with the clothing brand’s rapid rise through the following years. However, Abercrombie and Fitch marketed itself on exclusivity, which was part of the company’s many problems. Amidst several controversies, Mike retired from his role in the company in 2014. Netflix’s ‘White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch’ delves into the once-iconic brand’s influence on fashion and Mike’s controversial time at its helm. So, let’s find out more about him then, shall we?
What Happened to Mike Jeffries?
Mike grew up in Los Angeles, California. Sometime after graduating with a master’s degree in business administration, he founded a clothing brand focused on business apparel for women. While that didn’t work out, Mike found success later when he was brought on as the CEO at Abercrombie & Fitch in 1992. The company soon shifted its target audience to teenagers and young adults while promoting a sense of exclusivity. Abercrombie & Fitch was known for its notoriously racy advertisement campaigns back then.
While the company continued to soar in popularity, it was also plagued by many controversies. In 2002, it was criticized for what was printed on thongs for middle-school girls. Things like “Eye Candy” and “Wink Wink” were deemed sexual. Regarding this, Mike said, “That was a bunch of bul—-t. People said we were cynical, that we were sexualizing little girls. But you know what? I still think those are cute underwear for little girls. And I think anybody who gets on a bandwagon about thongs for little girls is crazy.”
Later on, there were protests regarding Abercrombie & Fitch selling t-shirts with offensive stuff printed on them. Then, in 2004, the company settled a class-action lawsuit filed by minority employees. They felt that Abercrombie & Fitch would put them in back-of-the-store jobs. The company was already known for its predominantly white, all-American image.
In an interview in 2006, Michael had this to say about people who were overweight, and others who were not traditionally attractive: “In every school, there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
In the early 2010s, the company was facing a sharp decline in its profits. Around the same time, a lawsuit made public a manual of sorts for the flight crew on the company’s private plane that Mike often used. According to that, the employees had to wear Abercrombie & Fitch clothes, including their boxer briefs. It also mentioned how they were supposed to respond to Mike and his guests’ requests and seating arrangements for his dogs.
In January 2014, Mike was stripped of his chairman duties after investors grew increasingly unhappy. By the end of that year, Abercrombie & Fitch had seen 11 consecutive quarters of comparable sales decline. So in December, Mike decided to step down as CEO. The company had begun to face stiff competition from other fashion brands and was criticized for not catering to changing consumer tastes and choices.
Where is Mike Jeffries Now?
Since Mike stepped down from the company, he has remained off the radar. He was always known to be very private, and little is known about his personal life. Mike was married and had a son, but they separated many years ago. Mike then began a relationship with Matthew Smith, whose involvement in Abercrombie & Fitch raised many concerns. From what we can tell, his last known location is in Ohio, where the company is headquartered. Mike also owned a house in Manhattan, New York, that was put on sale in 2016.