Abercrombie StoreWhen I started writing this post, I thought it was going to be a cautionary tale for retailers – what happens when brands cross the line from aspirational fashion to exclusivity. If you’ve seen any retail news lately you know all about the CEO shenanigans and product quality issues that have both Lululemon and Abercrombie & Fitch looking at disappointing fourth quarter forecasts. But what I quickly realized is that this is a love story. As it turns out, it’s about the romance my 12-year-old daughter, Lucy, had with Lululemon and A&F – from the crush to going steady, right down to the painful break up. And maybe, just maybe, it will end with a chance for one of these brands to kiss and make up, not just with Lucy, but with the millions of young women like her who have the power to return these brands to glory, or let them crash and burn. Lucy fell hard for A&F and its simple preppy styles at the tender age of 10. She was too young to understand the politics of the brand and joyfully sported her logoed sweatshirts and distressed jeans to school. All that changed with one recent visit to the A&F store at the MOA. The sales staff was rude – not to Lucy, but to one of her friends who didn’t have the A&F look. News flash Mr. Jeffries, 12-year-old girls are fiercely loyal to their friends and as your current sales indicate, they don’t like to be bullied. Out went the sweatshirts and jeans. And lo and behold, there is not a single A&F item on Miss Lucy’s Christmas list this year. Sadly for me (or at least for the clothing budget), the disposal of the A&F collection left a hole in Lucy’s wardrobe that she quickly lobbied to fill with yoga pants and hoodies from Lululemon. It was love, true love. Until the see-through pants incident. Fortunately, Lucy didn’t own any of the unintentionally sheer pants, but this time she heard the Lululemon founder Chip Wilson blame the defect on overweight customers. “You have got to be kidding me?!,” she said, in that scathing tone only pre-teen girls can truly muster. I could see her struggling – she wasn’t ready for another cruel brand break up, and after all, the sales people at the Grand Avenue store are practically her besties. Her relief was palpable this week when Wilson stepped down. Lucy and her legions of Scuba-wearing friends seem more than willing to give Lululemon another chance. But just one more. Brandy Betz, a contributor to the multi-media financial services company Motley Fool, nailed it when she said, “There’s a difference in creating an aspirational brand with an aura of exclusivity and acting as a high school bully who body-shames girls in the hallway.” What I’m taking away from my retail focus group of one is this: Retailers, know your brand promise and live it authentically. And never, ever forget – it’s not about you, it’s about her. Lululemon, if you court her you can still win her back. A&F, there aren’t enough liquidation sales left to spark her interest – she’s moved on.

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