American Apparel is Bringing Sexy Back


American Apparel returns to its roots in an attempt to revive the brand
American Apparel, the Los Angeles based clothing manufacturer and retailer known for basic apparel and risqué marketing campaigns, has decided to bring sexy back, and propel it back to being at the centre of the brand’s identity.

In June 2014, American Apparel founder and CEO, Dov Charney famous for pioneering the racy and controversial image and advertising campaigns was suspended for misconduct. Paula Schneider then took over the business and during 2015 attempted to restore the brand to something more respectable and escape from its notoriously immoral past. The resulting factor was an odd mix of basic advertisements promoting bland and overpriced garments, while attempting to integrate small reminders of the brand’s provocative heritage. However, what had evolved was a brand that had lost its identity.

Under the guidance of Charney, the skimpy designs and sexual advertisements garnered the attention of the key audience of emerging hipsters trying to escape generic suburban fashion trends, which attributed to the brands initial success. American Apparel started the fashion revolution of leggings, crop tops and distressed apparel providing a unique offering to the market, while creating a very precise brand identity of attainable aspiration. The ‘real’ models that featured in the advertisements were relatable and allowed anyone to buy the attire and adopt the persona of hot, young and real.

American Apparel advertisement

However upon Charney’s departure, in an attempt to win over new customers Schneider implemented a new brand strategy that toned down the sexualised image that American Apparel were known for. The brand’s image and product offerings became more conservative with rising necklines and looser-fitting clothes, with any ounce of sexual exploitation being a distant memory for the brand. The overt sexualisation was the differentiating factor that propelled the brand into mainstream success, and losing this factor had attributed to American Apparel losing its voice and a clear indication of what they stood for.

American Apparel turned their backs on their key brand supporters in the hopes of appealing to a broader audience, however what resulted was a product offering that alienated its target audience. Older consumers were driven away by the brand’s attempt to pay respect to the provocative nature of the brand, while younger consumers were deterred by the basic and lacklustre image American Apparel were trying to convey.


American Apparel have appeared to realise the power of their previous brand under the guidance of Charney, and have recently unveiled their new look marketing campaigns. The advertisements have found a balance between respecting the risqué heritage of the brand, but maintaining an element of finesse and class. The new brand strategy targets a more specific consumer base, and has decided to drop the basic and innocent brand positioning.

American Apparel 2016

The new generation of American Apparel is not of the same racy nature as seen under the guidance of Charney, but at the same time, it is not sanitised and sterile. The campaign adopts a more aspirational approach, featuring high fashion models and moving away from amateur Instagram ‘models’, with the hopes of enhancing market appeal and saving the brand from its imminent failure. Is it a case of too little too late to revive the brand, after trying to completely overhaul the brand’s image and reposition it as something completely different to what it was known for? Only time can tell whether this return to a racier persona can appeal to the desired market, and encourage previous brand supporters to jump back on board.

Simon Wang
Strategy Intern 

Image Credits: Yahoo, Adweek, New York Post and Business Insider

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