What Happened to American Apparel?

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Written By Angelo Sorbello

Tech entrepreneur and passionate about business



American Apparel, once a prominent figure in the fashion industry, experienced a tumultuous downfall marked by bankruptcy filings, store closures, and allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination.

This article delves into the factors that contributed to the company's demise, shedding light on a cautionary tale of a once-promising brand's unraveling.

From controversial hiring practices to a failure to adapt to changing consumer preferences, American Apparel's downfall serves as a symbol of the consequences that can arise from a lack of strategic foresight and ethical considerations in the retail industry.

Key Takeaways

  • American Apparel faced financial difficulties, filing for bankruptcy twice and closing numerous stores worldwide.
  • The company was marred by controversies, including sexual harassment and racial discrimination lawsuits against founder Dov Charney.
  • American Apparel's brand image suffered due to a toxic work environment and controversial staff-hiring practices.
  • The company failed to adapt to changing customer preferences and lacked innovation and diversification, leading to a decline in customer interest.

Bankruptcy and Store Closures

American Apparel faced financial turmoil and ultimately filed for bankruptcy, resulting in the closure of over 100 stores worldwide and the termination of almost 2,500 employees. This drastic step was taken due to the company's inability to overcome mounting debts and lack of liquidity.

The bankruptcy and store closures had a significant impact on the fashion industry. American Apparel was known for its emphasis on ethically made, American-manufactured clothing, and its downfall highlighted the challenges faced by companies in the fast-paced, highly competitive fashion market. The closures also affected the employees, who lost their jobs as a result.

In order to recover from this setback, American Apparel implemented restructuring strategies to streamline operations and cut costs. However, the impact on the fashion industry was significant, as it signaled the decline of a once-prominent player in the market.

Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Lawsuits

Following the bankruptcy and store closures, the next significant issue that plagued American Apparel was a series of sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits. These lawsuits had a detrimental effect on the brand image of American Apparel, tarnishing its reputation as a progressive and socially conscious company.

The allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination created a hostile work environment and a toxic culture within the company. As a result, customers and stakeholders lost trust in the brand, leading to long-term consequences such as declining sales and a loss of market share.

American Apparel's failure to address these issues in a timely and effective manner further exacerbated the negative impact on its brand image. Ultimately, the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits played a significant role in the downfall of American Apparel.

Controversial Hiring Practices

The implementation of controversial hiring practices further contributed to the decline of American Apparel's brand image and reputation. These practices had a significant impact on employee morale and perpetuated a toxic work environment. Here are four examples of American Apparel's controversial hiring practices:

  1. Appearance-based hiring: American Apparel attached photographs to job applications, allowing attractiveness to influence hiring decisions. This discriminatory practice disregarded qualifications and skills, fostering a culture of superficiality within the company.
  2. Firing based on attractiveness: Employees were reportedly terminated based on their physical appearance, reinforcing the company's shallow approach to hiring. This practice not only undermined employee self-esteem but also created a hostile and discriminatory workplace.
  3. Lack of inclusive hiring practices: American Apparel's hiring practices were not inclusive and failed to promote diversity. By prioritizing attractiveness, the company perpetuated a narrow and exclusionary standard of beauty, further alienating potential employees from diverse backgrounds.
  4. Negative impact on employee morale: These controversial practices created a demoralizing work environment, where employees felt undervalued and subject to arbitrary judgments. Such practices eroded trust, loyalty, and motivation among the workforce, ultimately contributing to the decline of American Apparel.
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Toxic Work Environment and Reputation Damage

The pervasive toxic work environment at American Apparel severely damaged the company's reputation. Reports of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and improper hiring practices created a hostile workplace culture that negatively impacted employee morale.

Founder Dov Charney faced multiple lawsuits for misconduct, including allegations of crude language and conducting job interviews in underwear. These controversies tarnished the company's image and eroded trust among customers and stakeholders.

Additionally, an investigation revealed that a significant number of employees were unauthorized to work in the United States, contradicting the company's values around worker rights. The employment of unauthorized workers further damaged American Apparel's reputation.

The toxic work environment and resulting reputation damage played a significant role in the company's downfall and bankruptcy filings.

Unauthorized Workers and Worker Rights Contradiction

The employment of unauthorized workers at American Apparel revealed a contradiction in the company's stance on worker rights. Despite promoting itself as a champion of fair labor practices and workers' rights, American Apparel violated these principles by hiring unauthorized workers. This contradiction had several significant impacts:

  1. Tarnished reputation: American Apparel's reputation as a socially responsible brand was severely damaged. The company's commitment to worker rights was called into question, undermining its credibility.
  2. Worker rights violations: The employment of unauthorized workers exposed the company to potential worker rights violations. These workers may have been subjected to exploitative conditions, lower wages, and lack of legal protection.
  3. Loss of trust: The revelation of unauthorized workers eroded trust among employees, customers, and the wider public. American Apparel's failure to uphold its own values undermined its relationships with stakeholders.
  4. Legal consequences: The employment of unauthorized workers brought legal consequences for American Apparel. The company faced penalties for violating immigration laws and potentially violating other labor regulations.

Founder's Firing and Misuse of Funds

Founder Dov Charney's termination and financial misconduct led to American Apparel's further decline. After being fired in 2014 due to sexual harassment claims, Charney's impact on the company's finances became evident.

It was revealed that he had used company funds for personal expenses, including paying off personal debts and funding his own real estate ventures. This financial mismanagement severely weakened American Apparel's financial position, exacerbating its already mounting debts and lack of liquidity.

The misuse of funds not only eroded the company's financial stability but also damaged its reputation and investor confidence. Charney's actions undermined the trust and credibility of American Apparel, making it even more challenging for the company to recover and regain its footing in the highly competitive retail industry.

Failure to Adapt and Diversify

After the founder's termination and financial misconduct, American Apparel's downfall was further exacerbated by its failure to adapt and diversify its product range in response to changing customer preferences and market trends. This failure can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Evolving customer preferences: American Apparel failed to recognize and respond to the shifting tastes and preferences of its target audience. While competitors like Zara and H&M expanded their product ranges to cater to a wider customer base, American Apparel stuck with its limited selection of styles, failing to attract new customers and retain existing ones.
  2. Impact of fast fashion retailers: The rise of fast fashion retailers posed a significant challenge to American Apparel. These retailers offered trendy and affordable clothing options, attracting price-sensitive customers who were looking for the latest fashion at a lower cost. American Apparel's failure to compete in this space further contributed to its decline.
  3. Lack of innovation: American Apparel lacked the innovation necessary to stay competitive in the rapidly changing fashion industry. While other brands embraced new technologies and marketing strategies, American Apparel remained stagnant, failing to introduce new and exciting products that would resonate with consumers.
  4. Failure to diversify: American Apparel heavily relied on its core product offerings, primarily focusing on basic apparel items like t-shirts and leggings. This lack of diversification limited the brand's appeal and hindered its ability to attract a broader customer base.
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Other Failed Platforms and Services

In addition, several other platforms and services have also experienced failure in recent years, demonstrating the challenges and risks that companies face in an ever-changing market landscape.

One notable example is Musically, a popular video sharing app that was absorbed into TikTok in June 2018. Despite its initial success, Musically became unavailable in August of the same year, as it merged with TikTok to consolidate their user base and improve their offerings.

Another platform that faced failure was Vine, a video social networking platform that was discontinued by Twitter in 2016. Vine had a significant impact on social media, popularizing the concept of short-form videos. However, it failed to keep up with the evolving market and was eventually shuttered.

These failures highlight the importance of adaptability and staying ahead of the competition in the fast-paced world of technology and social media.

Mounting Debts and Lack of Liquidity

American Apparel's mounting debts and lack of liquidity became significant factors in the company's downfall. The mismanagement of funds and financial struggles plagued the once-thriving brand. Here are four key reasons that contributed to American Apparel's financial woes:

  1. Excessive spending: The company invested heavily in expanding its retail footprint, opening stores in prime locations without considering the potential profitability of each location.
  2. Inefficient inventory management: American Apparel failed to properly manage its inventory, resulting in excess stock and high carrying costs. This led to markdowns and reduced profit margins.
  3. Costly manufacturing practices: The company's commitment to manufacturing its products in the United States led to higher production costs compared to competitors who outsourced production overseas.
  4. Inadequate cash flow management: American Apparel struggled with maintaining sufficient cash flow to cover its operational expenses and debt obligations, leading to a liquidity crisis.

These factors combined to create a perfect storm for American Apparel, ultimately leading to its demise.

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Lack of Profit and Undefined Business Models

One key factor contributing to American Apparel's downfall was its lack of profitability and undefined business models. Despite its initial success, the company failed to generate consistent profits since 2009, indicating a fundamental flaw in its operations. Additionally, American Apparel struggled to establish clear and effective business models that could sustain its growth and adapt to changing market dynamics. To illustrate this point, consider the following table:

Challenges Impact on American Apparel
Undefined business models Hindered strategic decision-making and long-term planning. Hindered the company's ability to effectively compete with fast-fashion retailers.
Lack of profitability Limited the company's financial resources and ability to invest in innovation, diversification, and marketing. Hindered its ability to attract and retain customers.

The lack of profitability and undefined business models ultimately undermined American Apparel's viability and contributed to its downfall.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Did American Apparel's Bankruptcy and Store Closures Affect Their Employees?

The bankruptcy and store closures of American Apparel had a significant impact on its employees. Many lost their jobs, leading to financial hardship and uncertainty. The closures also had long-term effects on the retail industry, impacting local communities and contributing to the decline of brick-and-mortar stores.

What Were the Specific Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Against Founder Dov Charney?

Specific allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination against founder Dov Charney at American Apparel included crude language, gestures, and conducting job interviews in underwear. These controversial practices contributed to the company's downfall, toxic work environment, and damaged reputation.

How Did American Apparel's Controversial Hiring Practices Contribute to Their Downfall?

American Apparel's controversial hiring practices, such as attaching photographs to applications and firing employees based on attractiveness, contributed to a toxic work environment and tarnished the company's reputation. This had a detrimental impact on employees and ultimately led to the company's downfall.

What Steps Did American Apparel Take to Address Their Toxic Work Environment and Damaged Reputation?

American Apparel took steps to address their toxic work environment and damaged reputation by implementing training programs on diversity, inclusion, and respectful behavior. These initiatives aimed to improve the company culture and create a safer, more inclusive environment for employees. The impact on employees was significant, as they felt supported and valued, leading to increased morale and productivity.

How Did American Apparel's Employment of Unauthorized Workers Contradict Their Values Around Worker Rights?

American Apparel's employment of unauthorized workers contradicted their values around worker rights. This practice tarnished their reputation and went against their commitment to providing fair and legal employment opportunities for workers.


In conclusion, American Apparel's downfall can be attributed to a combination of internal issues and external factors.

The company's bankruptcy, store closures, and legal troubles stemming from sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits tarnished its reputation.

Controversial hiring practices and a toxic work environment further aggravated the situation.

Additionally, American Apparel's failure to adapt to changing consumer preferences and market dynamics, as well as its limited product range, hindered its ability to compete with expanding competitors.

Overall, a lack of adaptability, ethical concerns, and financial challenges contributed to the demise of this once-promising brand.

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