The soap opera that is American Apparel has been given a new plot twist: the brand has apparently come back from the dead. No, there’s no evil twin here, just a calculated rebranding of the once Made in the USA giant.
You remember the saga that started a few years back. Even with high sales, the company never really managed to turn a profit. It relied on aggressively sexualized ads to hawk its wares and CEO Dov Charney was ousted after a bevy of sexual harassment lawsuits. Then there was the whole drama with Charney trying to buy back “his” company before being hit with a restraining order to prevent the disgraced executive from interfering in the business. Days of Our Lives doesn’t hold a candle to this real-life melodrama.
Even after trying to resuscitate the dying brand by bringing in fresh faces — like former Band of Outsiders designer Joseph Pickman, who was supposed to inject the men’s department with new life, and CEO Paula Schneider — the last nail in the coffin was struck back in January with the $88 million sale of intellectual property and manufacturing equipment to Canadian apparel giant Gildan. And with that, many of us assumed that would be the last we’d hear of American Apparel.
Cut to August and the brand is subtly reinventing and relaunching itself. Its website just went live on Monday with an official launch set to take place August 14. With a change in ownership, one would expect a completely different American Apparel to emerge from the ashes. Well, you’re only partially right. Based on the brand’s new ads, not much has changed. Granted, the smuttiness is gone (thankfully), but its trademark stripped-down logo remains and the campaign is easily identifiable with the American Apparel of yore. Although, the brand is now turning to Instagram for its range of basically unknown and unrepresented models. It’s also following the Glossier and Victoria’s Secret model of employing campus ambassadors to promote the line IRL.
The company’s stock list is also causing flashbacks as the reborn brand is bringing back the line’s best-sellers — think stretchy leggings, basic tees and T-shirt dresses. But this isn’t a reissue dressed up with slick marketing. American Apparel is planning to introduce fresh collections for Spring 2018, including menswear later on.
Still headquartered out of Los Angeles (while under the umbrella of Gildan), the famously U.S.-made brand is now being manufactured in places like Central America. But it’s not trying to hide its foreign factories. In fact, the company’s website highlights the stories of its overseas workers and boasts that the company is “sweatshop free.” For those customers who insist on American-made products, the website features a Made in USA capsule that offers two takes on the same items, one made in the U.S., the other overseas. But there’s a catch: the one made in America costs $10 more than its globally made twin. It’s the company’s way of testing whether we’ll pay more for pieces made in the States.
It remains to be seen how this latest chapter will go over with consumers. We’re fairly certain American Apparel’s back-to-basics base will reemerge, but with fast fashion options like Zara and hipster hubs like Urban Outfitters as competition, who knows if name recognition will be enough to return the brand to prominence. According to The Atlantic, Charney thinks the brand is past saving. “The company is dead. They’re just tossing around a brand. It’s like Polaroid or Sharper Image. The spirit of American Apparel is dead.”
Sour grapes aside, it will be interesting to see what the next generation of American Apparel brings.