In 2014, founder and first CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney, was ousted from his position following allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The company had experienced a very rough patch leading up Charney’s departure; its hypersexualized advertisements combined with reports of harassment directed towards young women employed at countless American Apparel locations rightfully garnered plenty of criticism. The brand’s wavering image clearly showed in its financial situation; stock prices had been plummeting for years.
When the company brought Paula Schneider in to fill the vacancy, she seemed like the perfect person to turn the operation around. Schneider held positions at numerous high-profile fashion brands including BCBG Max Azria and studied design in college. More importantly, she spoke in multiple interviews about preserving the brand’s edginess while also making the image less racy and implementing stronger internal structure and regulation. The move looked like a move in the right direction that would foster a more welcoming and safer atmosphere for employees and customers alike.
Unfortunately, that vision has not been realized. Next Monday, after only 20 months as CEO, Schneider will step down from her position. In her short tenure at American Apparel, the company has made financial progress and has reduced its debt but was still forced to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy and is seeking a buyer. Schneider wrote in a public statement that the impending sale of the company has rendered her turnaround plan obsolete.
That is not to say that Schneider has not made her mark on the company. A number of visible changes have been made during her time at American Apparel, the most obvious of those being a departure from the infamously sexual ads that many still associate with the brand. Last year, the company launched an ad campaign that was refreshingly respectful, operating on guidelines laid out in a pitch deck from June 2015. The campaign sought to stress confidence, individuality, and inclusivity instead of sexual objectification, and succeeded in some ways, garnering support online. The same deck, though, highlighted financial challenges that the company has yet been unable to deal with, including a “stagnant retail product”. American Apparel still makes most of its sales on non-rotating basics, and attempts to stress its seasonally changing offerings have been unsuccessful.
The good news for the company is that it is still very relevant to millennials, its core consumer base. It has directed trends in the past, like the resurgence of crop tops, and ostensibly will continue to enjoy some influence for the foreseeable future. There is still much work to be done for employee’s rights, especially for a company that touts itself as ethical based on its policy of not utilizing sweatshops, but the culture of the brand is in a better spot now than it was when Schneider came on board.
What do you think of American Apparel’s more recent advertisements? Let me know here or on Twitter @BillChangNY