Business

American Apparel in China

aa_two.jpg
Ad campaign, perhaps not China ready

At the end of last month, Shanghaiist reported that American Apparel are planning to open a store in China. The store has a cult following in the U.S. for a few reasons:

Firstly, all American Apparel clothing is manufactured in a downtown L.A. factory, which gives American consumers a nice karmic perk of knowing that their clothes are 'sweatshop free'. Although the company apparently pays good salaries, they do not allow their workers to unionize, but it seems the new left values of guilt avoidance politics ('sweatshop free') now trump the old left values symbolized by labor unions.

Another important part of American Apparel's image is the effect of their advertising campaigns which feature amateur models, often shot in grainy, home porno style.

Thirdly, the charismatic founder of the company, Dov Charney, has become a media figure in his own right because of his unconventional management style, the fact that he takes many of the photos used in American Apparel ads, and perhaps most notoriously because he repeatedly masturbated in front of a reporter for Jane magazine when she was interviewing him.

The clothes themselves are nothing remarkable: American Apparel is the clothing version of IKEA, a place where you can get a bunch of basic, fairly decent looking clothes. But there are no logos nor any flashy design features on the clothes.

American Apparel's China play will be interesting to watch. The announcement on their own web page says the following:

In the next few months American Apparel will be opening its first stores in China with locations already slated in Beijing and in Shanghai.

In a rare industry occurrence, we will be bringing Made in the USA clothing to China and we intend to pay employees there gross wages that exceed the US minimum.

Aside from the fact that the company intends to sell U.S. made clothes and pay above market rates for labor, there is a further obstacle to their success: it is not clear whether Chinese consumers will pay much for clothes that have no obvious brand and therefore no obvious status marker.

Finally, those adverts: not so easy to get them approved in China's censorious media and advertising environment.

Links and Sources
There are currently 17 Comments for American Apparel in China.

Comments on American Apparel in China

Sir,
I don't think the comparison to IKEA is accurate. The quality of AA's t-shirts is higher that of the average branded t-shirt, and more so when comparing to what's currently on offer in China.

And the Chinese consumers are indeed not great fans of non-branded brands, but big chunk of AA's sales comes from designers who buy their stuff and brand it themselves (as I did, when I was young and cool).

It's going to be difficult. Behr Process (makers of Behr Paints and Stains) has been trying to sell into China. We've been having some difficulty just trying to get across the idea of how to use our paint to Chinese consumers.

I can't tell if you meant this article to be as offensive as it is or if its just poorly translated. It's sort of out of place to see a publication bash a company thats decided to invest in China and is investing and bringing above-average paying jobs.

I agree with first comment. AA sells t-shirts that are much higher quality than the average. They are extremely comfortable. IKEA sells things that are inexpensive but also often cheaply made. AA costs a little more than an average t-shirt but you're paying for quality.

"Firstly, all American Apparel clothing is manufactured in a downtown L.A. factory, which gives American consumers a nice karmic perk of knowing that their clothes are 'sweatshop free'. Although the company apparently pays good salaries, they do not allow their workers to unionize, but it seems the new left values of guilt avoidance politics ('sweatshop free') now trump the old left values symbolized by labor unions."

This is bullsh*t by the way. Well the fact that it's called "American" unless its used loosely referring to the continent. All their employees are from south of the border and few of them are documented. My slinging this information out there is from an investigative report a producer at my old employer conducted BUT it never aired because it is one of the boss' business interests and such information would be damaging to redneck American's like myself.

Agree with Dror - AA clothing is high quality and cant be compared to IKEA. American Apparel produces really fantastic fashion basics, with great cut, fit and colour.

The difference between this and other brands is that all the garments are sweat shop free, produced in LA by workers with proper pay, rights and benefits.

The company also aims to convert 80% of its cotton to sustainable, organic cotton. Also, they have dedicated cult following becuase they managed their branding quite well. they are considered cool, hip, aspirational, carefree, sexy. it might not be everyone's cup of tea but it works

sgt slaughter would much rather purchase his garments from wal-mart where he can be sure those workers are still stuck in their respective slums south of the border assembling his quality NASCAR wardrobe with pride.

I came out with this news 7th march....on my blog

cool to know that you're following on the news..

Shopgirl leads...

...Danwei follows

There's an interesting article about AA and founder Dov Charney on yesterday's Jezebel.

Apart from that, Shopgirl looks a little like Gong Li. Good for her.

Y'alls missing the lead on this one.

American Apparel's foray into Chinese retail will lead to American Apparel factories in China. The company IPO'd in 2006. Dov Charney's hands are tied.

I'll bet my bonus on it.

Another thing I wonder about: Sure the clothes are assembled in LA, but what about all the steps before that? Where's the fabric made, the thread, the yarn? Is all the cutting etc. done in LA or just the final assembly so they can claim "Made in LA"?

"sgt slaughter would much rather purchase his garments from wal-mart where he can be sure those workers are still stuck in their respective slums south of the border assembling his quality NASCAR wardrobe with pride."---NOPE

What's you point? Of course I would rather purchase from Walmart---it's cheaper. My point was that American Apparel is the f*cking same as Walmart just as all these "organic" vegetables in places like Whole Foods are just as bad as Monsanto. You pseudo-intellectuals think your sh*t doesn't stink. By the way there is nothing wrong with Nascar although I prefer tractor-pulls you bigot. You think you are so tough but you probably eat ice cream like all the other wusses out there.
Over and out private.

American Apparel is a business built by coke heads and shoddy accounting practices.

The Consumerist writes a good article about this horrible brand: link

SGT. I know I know. You, your wife, and five kids have to stretch every last dollar of your welfare check and you certainly don't want to share any of it with some gosh darn illegal immigrants! I just prefer to support my country by making sure that everything that I buy says made in the usa on it, not by putting a yellow ribbon magnet on the back of my car and advocating the bombing of third world nations into submission so that we can exploit their workforce. Questionable hiring practices will not deter my purchase. I don't see any other companies opening up new factories here, so A.A. can stock their employees any way they see fit. Have to go now so I can eat some rBGH-free Ben and Jerry's and take a big fat stinking dump.

NOPE, why do your comments get personal and insult my wife and five kids? We are Catholic. We can't use contraception. Oh and we are Franciscans so we have taken a promise to remain poor and charitable.
If you are so pro-American then I ask you where the hell do you live? Who's economy are you presently supporting? You talk a good game but you are just another ignorant self-righteous laowai.

I saw a documentary called No Sweat by Amie Williams at a film festival at Beijing Normal University last year, which follows the founding of two companies, SweatX and American Apparel, both of which strive to produce "sweat-free" clothing. SweatX is a project started by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's fame, and is fundamentally different from AA in that its workers had a voice on the board of directors. Yet most people probably haven't heard of SweatX, because it failed.

The director definitely wanted SweatX to prevail, and shows some pretty bad treatment of workers at American Apparel, but in her remarks after the film was shown, she had to admit that SweatX's business model just wasn't and couldn't be profitable. Interesting film, with more info here: link

China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
laomo2010x80.jpg
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives