The Story of American Apparel
American Apparel is arguably the most well-known promotional products company in the world. Strip away the stores, the ads, the headlines: At its core, it is a wholesaler that built its business manufacturing and selling T-shirts to decorators. That’s American Apparel.
Of course, American Apparel also is an internationally known retail brand. It’s impossible to ignore the stores staffed with attractive 20-somethings, the salacious ads on bus stops and billboards, the headlines about lawsuits. That’s American Apparel, too.
These two faces of the business—the wholesaler and the retailer—almost seem like separate entities. Describe the youth-centric stores in Los Angeles and New York and Beijing, then describe the bulk shirt orders sent to decorators, and an outsider would think you were talking about two different companies.
Both halves of American Apparel snapped together earlier this year. A judge approved the company’s bankruptcy protection filling in January, giving American Apparel a chance to restructure not only its debt, but itself.
Over the course of several weeks, we spoke with representatives from American Apparel about emerging from bankruptcy, the apparel market, branding and the company’s place in the promotional products industry. The results of these candid interviews can be found in a special feature in our March issue.
You know the story by now: After years of increasing success, the company hit a roadblock in the late 2000s. The economy comes to a standstill. The media reports on hard times. The business struggles and customers turn to alternative options.
That could be American Apparel. That also could be the promotional products industry as a whole following the 2008 recession. The causes may differ, but the apparel company’s troubles parallel what was happening to suppliers and distributors across the country.
If we can learn anything from American Apparel, it’s perseverance. After weathering the most difficult period in its history, American Apparel is still here. It’s learned from its mistakes and is ready for the future. Anyone reading this now has gone through his or her own trials one way or another and emerged stronger. With a little luck, the worst is in the past and there’s nowhere to go but up.
Overcoming adversity to improve and emerge stronger than before? There’s nothing more American than that.