For those who love to shop, chances are in the late 90’s and throughout the 2000’s, you visited an American Apparel store. American Apparel was founded in 1997 and was all about providing clothing that was USA made and the materials were always sourced from the USA. American Apparel was the first to make ‘sweatshop free’ mainstream.
For many people, this was a major selling point. The company also targeted youth buyers with the trendy and hipster styles and edgy branding. They were firmly entrenched in both retail and the $22 billion-dollar promotional product industry. By 2017 they had shut down all their retail locations (from a high of 281 stores) and went bankrupt (for the second time). They’ve since re-structured and re-emerged. So, what’s up with American Apparel now?
At Fairware, we stopped promoting American Apparel years ago when the sexual harassment claims began to surface and when the hyper sexual advertising just didn’t sit right with our brand.
American Apparel’s Problems
Dov Charney, the Canadian founder of American Apparel was no stranger to controversy. He simultaneously built a company on the cornerstone of ethical sourcing and hyper sexualized branding. As noted in an Atlantic Magazine article in 2017, the image began to unravel as the ‘Made in USA & Sweatshop Free’ positioning didn’t line up with on the ground practices.
While many labor complaints were eventually dismissed, Dov Charney faced a litany of sexual harassment claims that were not. A series of sexual harassment and defamation cases cost the company more than $3 million in fines to resolve.
The New American Apparel
In early 2017, American Apparel, in its second bankruptcy claim, was up for sale. While the stores may have been closed, the company still has an image that is branded in the public.
Gildan Activewear, a Canadian retailer, that was able to purchase American Apparel in late 2017 for $88 million. Gildan relaunched the brand but there are key differences in the latest iteration. We’ve written about Gildan in the past, when they bought Anvil, a Fairware favorite t-shirt supplier in 2012. Specifically, we wrote about how disappointed we were to see Gildan eliminate all of Anvil’s sustainable textile lines from production.
What Has Changed for American Apparel?
Under the direction of Gildan, after relaunching in August of 2017, there are several key changes to American Apparel.
The overtly sexual images once synonymous with the brand are gone. Gildan has changed the marketing campaign to showcase still hip, but less risky shots of the clothing that American Apparel made popular.
The new message is that you can look good in whatever you want to wear, whether this be a colorful shirt or leggings. Empowerment is something that many buyers are looking to find when they shop and moves like expanding the sizes of their clothes to reach even more people play into the empowerment theme.
The former CEO will not be associated with the new American Apparel in any way after the allegations that have taken place along with numerous lawsuits, in fact he’s launched a new competitor. And American Apparel’s retail business remains shuttered.
What About Being USA Made?
The biggest shift post Gildan is that American Apparel is not wholly made in America anymore. This is a major change as the old American Apparel was all about being made in the USA.
The website now states “We are now proudly offering styles made globally. Providing more jobs to more people than ever before.” It’s a bit awkward given the company name.
The new American Apparel is clearly taking price into consideration along with the quality of the materials that are being used when deciding on where to outsource their material for their products. It will be interesting to see if their customers notice.
Looking for USA Made and Sustainable T-Shirts and Apparel?
For those who are still looking for USA made apparel, Fairware still has plenty of options to choose from. Our top organic cotton t-shirt, recycled PET t-shirt and sustainable hoody suppliers all offer Made in USA or Made in Canada options. Get in touch to learn more.