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How American Apparel Is Rebuilding Its Brand With More Sizes, New Styles and Fresh Marketing

Brand exec Cynthia Erland lays out the strategy

An example of American Apparel's new creative shows the brand isn't dropping raciness altogether. American Apparel

American Apparel, the Los Angeles-based clothing retailer known for its risqué advertising, has been through some tumultuous times.

It would be easy to point to Dov Charney, the controversial founder and former CEO who over the years has been embroiled in several sexual harassment lawsuits and then fired in 2014 for misconduct. But the retailer's problems go deeper than Charney. The once publicly traded company hasn't been profitable for five years, and in February it exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings as a private firm.

American Apparel's Cynthia Erland

American Apparel is now busy stitching together a new global marketing plan that's said to be more reflective of today's tastes and trends. Adweek recently spoke with Cynthia Erland, American Apparel's svp of marketing, to hear how the company plans to spring forward.

Adweek: How are you evolving the American Apparel brand?
Cynthia Erland: One thing a lot of people don't know with all of the Dov [Charney] noise is that all of the creatives are still here, the people who really built the brand. So we're totally keeping the DNA–the edgy, irreverent [tone]–but now it's time to kick it up a notch with proper strategy and financial funding.

What does that mean? 
We'll be launching our first truly global marketing campaign in June. It's the "Perfect T-shirt" campaign. Obviously American Apparel has been known for our true basics, but we've never really had a luxury T-shirt, a premium, beautiful fabric T-shirt. This is a big moment for us. Our older T-shirts are great, but they were a little bit heavier. They're still best-sellers; there's nothing wrong with them, but fashion has changed, trends have changed, fit has changed. But this is about more than a T-shirt campaign. This is the campaign that will set American Apparel back on the map. We want to cast girls and guys, influencers and creatives of all ages, shapes and sizes. This will be an omni-channel global campaign, and the broader message will be that American Apparel is back and for everyone.

How will American Apparel's more inclusive effort factor into sizing?
It's a challenge. That was one of [CEO] Paula [Schneider]'s first big imperatives. When she came in here it was, "We've got to expand the sizing and get our sizing to be consistent." So sizing is at the top of the list.

Is there any particular platform or initiative that you'll use to reflect the sizing change so that people become aware?
We're working with these amazing feminists, the granny panty girls [Mayan Toledano and Julia Baylis] from Me and You. We're going to launch a Me and You granny panty collection. They're very much about real-size women and that will definitely be something that is an amazing reinforcement of providing products and supporting girls of all shapes and sizes. That will launch in August around the back-to-school season.

Will American Apparel's advertising still have that sort of sexualized nature to it?
You know, marketing is fluid, everything evolves, and fashion has evolved over the past 10 years. It's definitely going to be gritty, real, independent and revolutionary, with young artists. It may be sexual; it may not. It will be how they freely express themselves.

There have been store closures, lagging sales. How will you grow the brand?
Obviously e-commerce continues to grow, and in the retail world we all know it's really leading the pack. A key initiative on that front is that we're working on improving our mobile experience this year, creating faster payment and order fulfillment. We just launched this program with Postmates. It's a soft launch in New York City and San Francisco where [couriers] pick up the products in store and deliver them in an hour instead of four to five days. We're looking at creative ways to make the consumer experience much better.

How will you be getting consumers to move on from Dov Charney?
I know there is so much press in the fashion media and in the advertising media about Dov Charney, but when we go into stores and talk to the consumer, they don't seem to care. I think it's amplified in our small little circle. I think the consumer just wants great product that's cool and on point, and honestly, our feedback out in the field is that they're really not listening to that noise.

This story first appeared in the March 14 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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