As a clothing company, American Apparel has gotten far by doing things in an unconventional way. From their conception, the brand has been committed to being sweatshop-free, logo-free and using ads with real people whose appearance has not been digitally altered. Although they have had their share of success along the way, their current reputation is not a positive one; their advertising has slowly turned overtly sexual and borderline unethical.
American Apparel’s original goal was to relate to their customers by using images of real people in their advertisements. In theory, this is a good idea but under the direction of former CEO Dov Charney, the envelope was pushed a little too far. Things started going south when the images turned offensive, and Charney was charged with several lawsuits for sexual misconduct.
Last year, Charney was fired for misusing company money and allowing an employee to post naked photographs of a former female employee who had sued him. He has since been replaced by Paula Schneider, whose hire was undeniably a strategic move towards reputation repair based on her past experience in the retail industry.
Beyond repairing American Apparel’s reputation, which is no small feat, Schneider will have to turn the company around after facing a major slump in sales since 2010. Her first major move as CEO happened Monday when the company announced it would be making $30 million in cost-cutting moves.
New vice president of marketing Cynthia Erland has also been implementing changes in hopes of reviving the brand. She has made advertising images more appropriate by using Photoshop to blur out certain features of the natural body, creating a huge controversy about altering women’s bodies.
The changes made to pictures on their website and their plans to use Photoshop moving forward has angered many people who are publicly supportive of displaying unretouched images women’s bodies in the media. American Apparel has been known to take strong stances on issues with their “Legalize Gay” and “Legalize LA” shirts, so feminists are disappointed to see that they are not following through with equal rights for women to be able to be seen topless and not digitally altered.
This is a fine line to walk. American Apparel’s old marketing techniques were unique and highly visible, gaining them lots of media attention. But the danger with taking strong stances is that it can exclude a large number of potential customers who may not agree.
American Apparel needs to find a balance between staying true to their passion for certain movements but also realizing that they are a clothing company, and they are in the business to make a profit. Since 2007, their stock price dropped nearly 10%. This could be a sign that these changes are needed to turn them in the right direction.
It seems like American Apparel has gotten caught up in current trends and ideas, and it has lead to an identity crisis. To rediscover themselves, they need to look at the initial intentions they set out with.
It’s never too late to get back to the root of why a company started and its core values, no matter how far gone they might seem. It is important to think about what you are putting out there from the perspective of your audience in order to safeguard your reputation. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be happy with how you represent yourself and to have a business that is successful in the long run.