The demise of American Apparel ?

Emily Higgins reflects on the history of American Apparel and its self destruction

19th October 2015

With a $300million debt, dismissal of their founder following allegations of sexual misconduct and an already controversial reputation for provocative ad campaigns, world famous high-street brand American Apparel may finally meet its maker after staying afloat in a sea of controversy for much of its time.

The retro brand is no stranger to controversy, with its name often gracing headlines for all the wrong reasons. It’s strong brand image and provocative campaigns are the biggest appeal to the large teenage target market, making it one of the most desirable high street brands and ensuring AA has remained a front runner despite the backlash. However, it would seem that it may be too little too late as the company now needs more than the income it receives from the hefty price tags on its items.

Recent developments show the undoing of the iconic teen brand, as the company filed for bankruptcy at the end of August. The brand fell into financial disarray after its fast growth and taking on too much debt, which has led to a colossal imbalance in the company’s funds. The majority of the brands profit comes from sales of its ‘basic’ ranges, including its famous disco pants, body suits and tennis skirts, which have become desirable and recognisable amongst its target market of young adults. This also follows founder Dov Charney’s dismissal after a string of allegations regarding sexual misconduct in December 2014.

‘‘Controversial ads meant the brand was often left balancing within the fine grey area between revolutionary and offensive’’

The chain of events only fuels an existing fire, as the brand already angers many due to the nature and content of its marketing strategies. Provocative images of young, doe-eyed girls have been called overly sexual and exploitative. Comedian Amy Schumer once famously described the campaigns as using “hostage lighting” in its campaigns comparing the models to vulnerable victims.

Controversial ads meant the brand was often left balancing within the fine grey area between revolutionary and offensive. However, they have repeatedly pushed the boundaries too far leading to many campaigns being banned. Most recently, in March 2015 a campaign promoting a body suit was deemed to be inappropriate and regarded as encouraging the sexualisation of children, leading to the images being banned in the UK. In an age where gender equality and the acceptance and celebration of all body types is continually strived for, American Apparel’s attempts to be revolutionary could actually make it behind the times.

The companies ‘sweatshop free’ ethos and manufacturing base in the US sets it apart from its rivals, but the recent events which have unfolded may mean that the ‘ultra-cool’ brand cannot hide behind its edgy image any longer and the brand may have to make some grown up decisions as its future hangs in the balance.

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