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Renewing a Heritage Brand

An Interview with American Apparel Director of Marketing, Sabina Weber

— November 2, 2018 — Business
After filing for bankruptcy in 2017 and facing backlash for the actions of disgraced former CEO Dov Charney, American Apparel has made a comeback, with the now Gildan-owned label relaunching and moving online.

To find out more about how the brand has worked to overcome its controversial past, adapted to an online marketplace, pushed for diversity and authenticity in its campaigns, and how the new ‘Back to Basics’ launch expresses these changes, we spoke with American Apparel's Director of Marketing, Sabina Weber.

How has American Apparel evolved the image of its brand for the online relaunch? Why has this been important?

It was very important that we evolve. People deeply love this brand. They grew up with it and it is in essence now a heritage brand. We needed to acknowledge that there was a point in time where the images and branding were uncomfortable. They created controversy but did not ultimately add value to the brand and we needed to accept that. Then we needed to decide, do we completely rebrand, or do we lean into the time of the brand where it was really positive. The brand has always used real people and did not retouch the normal human anomalies of the models. This brand championed ethically made apparel and LGBTQ rights long before it became the popular or the profitable thing to do, so we own this space. We decided to lean into those really positive aspects of the brand and extend them out even more.

We still only use models we find either through friends or via our open model calls. We hire girls/women/people that are generally over 21. If a model is over 21 but looks young, we don’t use them. We are adding more diversity in terms of ethnicities and a broader range of body types. The Nudes campaign really reflects this new philosophy. We also did an amazing Pride campaign where we found real people from the LGBTQ community via an open call and brought them on for our campaign. We designed two tees: “They OK” and “Still Here. Still Queer,” and more importantly, we continue to use them throughout other campaigns as well. Unlike a lot of brands who will do a pride campaign and never use those models again, we use them for e-com and for lifestyle.

We also just launched the Shaun Ross collaboration that featured people with interesting and unique skin anomalies. We photographed them as pieces of art and put them on tees to create dialogue around our preconceptions around what is defined as “beautiful.” It’s really about being yourself and feeling good about who you are in the world. Not letting others define you or how you should dress. We have always been a brand that acts as a platform for dialogue and self-expression. Also, we are keeping what was iconic – the poses, the simple portrait photography, use of flash, Swiss design/white space. What has already changed is the tone in the images. They now feel strong, still sexy but positive, rather than objectifying. We shoot all of our own images and don’t use any agencies, so we have the ability to keep the brand very authentic and the team very agile.

Now that American Apparel is owned by Gildan, can consumers expect some changes as to what styles of clothing will be available from the brand?

The styles and focus on fun colorful basics has not changed. It will be a mix of iconic American Apparel pieces that our customers loved, like the tees, hoodies, disco pants, bodysuits and tennis skirts, and ongoing newness. The focus will always be to offer wardrobe-staple basics layered with fashion-forward pieces that are timeless and are made to last. They are effortless basics that create a platform for your style and self-expression. When we started telling people we were back, we got so many great messages on our social media accounts about how people missed us in their closets and that we really fill a void in affordable, quality, great-fitting basics. Basics that always surprise you with how well they fit and how flattering and versatile they can be.

For Fall/Winter 2018 we introduced a new line of basic tees, tanks and lounge wear for men and women in mix modal. A really soft and elevated fabric that has stretch and slight sheen to it. There is a turtleneck in this collection that is so beautiful and sexy. These are pieces that you would pay significantly more for at other brands when you consider the quality. We offer them at an incredible price and they are ethically made. Also, there are new corduroy pieces and jackets for the season that feel and look so good. Again, basics that you can feel good about and now even more affordable as we have reduced by up to 23% the cost of our product in some cases.

The new Back to Basics campaign does a great job of highlighting body diversity, will there be a greater range of sizes available online for consumers to order from as well?

Definitely. We have done three things to really show that we stand for greater diversity. Firstly, we updated our fits to be more standard as we historically ran a bit small. This is important to note for our existing customers as they check the size charts before they purchase. Secondly, we have already added XL and in some cases XXL to many of the new mix modal pieces that just arrive, as well as some of our bestsellers like the disco pants and tennis skirt. Lastly, we feature a range of bodies in not just our lifestyle campaigns but also as our e-com models. It’s important to really be as inclusive as possible and show a range of different bodies and how they can all wear the brand.

Now that American Apparel is online-based, what should consumers know about the updated shopping experience?

The new americanapparel.com has been upgraded to provide an outstanding customer shopping experience that’s complete with free returns, free shipping and duties to Canada for orders over $150, in addition to a brand new checkout and product browsing experience. Because of the demand and speed to market opportunity, we partnered with BorderFree to provide the fulfillment. Shipping is based out of California currently and takes an average of 5-7 business days.

As mentioned, we have standardized our sizing to be more consistent and we have also been able to reduce our prices but up to 23% on some items making it even more affordable. All of this, paired with the fun basics that are sweatshop-free are great reasons to rediscover American Apparel.
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