American Apparel will not die because American labour is too expensive, or that a market does not exist. Their death will not be because of tired advertising, a scandalized founder, underperforming store locations; the reason for their death is far more simple: Their clothing is ugly.
Zara offers copy-cat runway looks with mid-range quality at mid-range prices. H&M sells trendy pieces with low quality at low prices. American Apparel sells…quirky pieces with high quality at mid-range prices, and that market just does not exist at a scale worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. And in all honesty, the market American Apparel chases may not exist at all.
Take a moment to peruse around American Apparel’s online store. Is there anything there you would buy? The women fair better than the men, but the non-traditional fit and colours are never going to have a place in anyone’s permanent wardrobe. Where are the simple pieces? The awesome-quality sweaters I could wear every day in eighteen different colours, or the handbag every woman needs on their shoulder no matter their age? If American Apparel prides themselves in good quality pieces, why are they not designing pieces someone wants to keep for a long time?
American Apparel’s market should be essential pieces with high quality at mid-range prices for the average North American. Their visual identity already says that: They use the common Helvetica Black as their primary font and their advertisements feature no-fuss-I-don’t-care models. This is the image the brand already has, whether that was the intent from the beginning or a happy accident. What they don’t have is a collection of clothing people want. Nobody cares about the scandal, but everyone should care about paying workers fair wages, a production facility that prides itself in environmental sustainability, and a brand focused on spending money on its people, not on celebrity endorsements. American Apparel has the image; now they just need the clothing.