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The Curious Case of American Apparel’s Legacy in LA

Gilden Activewear, the Canadian-based company who bought the recently bankrupted American Apparel brand in 2016 for $88 million, has reportedly fired the last of the remaining American Apparel marketing team and staff but maintained a transition period to officially hand-off the once-Angelino brand to Gilden’s management of the fortune 500 company, also maker of Fruit-of-the-Loom and Hanes underwear.

Gildan bought the rights to American Apparel — but not the stores, which closed — in a 2017 bankruptcy auction. A year ago, the company said the planned L.A. location would let it gauge trends and complement e-commerce operations. Chief Executive Officer Glenn Chamandy said at the time that Gildan was thinking about franchising the brand or opening more stores. (Bloomberg)

The brand still sells its most iconic styles, and its Instagram still features the high-flash photography for which the brand was known for, and now photos lean more toward soft, natural light, but two of American Apparel’s most defining qualities have been altered. Its tone, once cheeky and fairly smutty, has been transformed into a message of empowerment — the idea is that shoppers can still look sexy in a bodysuit or colorful, skintight pants, but on their own terms. And American Apparel, once a champion of domestic manufacturing, is no longer wholly made in America.

American Apparel’s journey is a prime example of what can happen when a failing brand is sold for parts and restarted by new owners. Its collapse just predated a tidal wave of retail bankruptcies and store closings that began in early 2017, hitting chains like Macy’s, The Limited, and Payless. Some brands never came back up (Toys ‘R’ Us), and some (Nasty Gal) were purchased out of bankruptcy like American Apparel.

We came to the conclusion that the ‘American’ in American Apparel is not necessarily a place. Customers care that we are ethically made and sweatshop-free. They don’t really care if we are ethically made in China, in Mexico, in Honduras, in the US, or in France.”

Silvia Mazzucchelli, American Apparel’s vice president of direct-to-consumer sale

A Guardian report from November 2017 paints a very different picture of how workers are treated in Gildan’s factories, citing complaints dating to 2004. Those included “mandatory work shifts longer than the legal maximum limit, illegal dismissals of employees involved in unions – including the dismissal of a pregnant woman, as well as consistent harassment and verbal abuse targeted at employees.”