Dive Brief:

  • American Apparel has re-emerged online under new owner Gildan, with a strong pitch to fans that its famous basics are ethically produced, even in factories outside the United States.
  • Through Sept. 5, the company is offering a free “fine jersey crewneck T-shirt,” for years one of the brand’s most enduring items, with orders of $50 or more, along with free shipping.
  • Gildan also chronicles its education, health care, wage and benefits, as well as its environmental record in Honduras, with a series of video and text stories featuring the tales of its workers and specifics about its water and energy use.

Dive Insight:

Montreal-based Gildan Activewear snapped up the iconic American Apparel brand in January for $88 million at an auction during its second bankruptcy in little over a year and has since breathed new life into the faltering brand. In just a few months the Canadian basics manufacturer, more known for its wholesale business making shirts and socks than for retail, has buoyed the brand and set it on a clearer path than the investors who battled founder Dov Charney (ousting him in 2014 and tussling with him in court) and brought American Apparel to bankruptcy court in 2015 and 2016.

The retailer’s board removed Charney more than three years ago, but his influence is seen all over Gildan’s current American Apparel site, which borrows much of his language about the brand’s dedication to workers and even his beliefs about a border-free world, as well as sticking with the font Charney chose years ago. That’s not to mention an archive of American Apparel images that feature Charney’s sexy, low-fi photography aesthetic.

“At American Apparel we’ve always believed in sweatshop free and ethical manufacturing,” the brand’s new website reads. “We’ve also always believed that border lines are pointless.”

That quote reads like an echo of Charney, who has launched an American Apparel-like brand of his own, Los Angeles Apparel.

“I believe in open borders, I‘m on the side of the sanctuary cities,” Charney told Retail Dive earlier this year. “I’m a ‘North American,’ I don’t even believe in countries. For me, the path is to pay workers $15 to $20 [per hour] and compete in the worldwide market. It’s not the only business design, that’s my business design. There’s no path with no challenge here. You focus on one way or a couple of ways of doing it.”

Gildan is opting for “a couple of ways” — the company contracts some Los Angeles-based manufacturing for the die-hards who favor U.S.-made clothing, but also leverages its existing factories, most prominently in Honduras, that it insists are also sweatshop-free, attentive to workers and environmentally responsible.

“Both our companies [Gildan and American Apparel] were founded on the belief that owning the factories where the apparel is made is the only way to make apparel right,” Garry Bell, Gildan vice president for corporate marketing and communications, told Retail Dive in an email earlier this year. “At Gildan we have built a much larger and more integrated model which includes yarn spinning as well as fabric and garment production. By owning the facilities we are better able to ensure that ethical and sustainable practices are in place, effectively assuring American Apparel will always be Sweatshop Free.”

On its site, which has yet to include retail sales, Los Angeles Apparel makes a similar promise. “We rarely subcontract cutting and sewing so that we can control quality. This is part of our commitment to our customers. This also helps develop the lives and skill level of our workers,” the site reads. “We are contrarians, deeply focused on sustainability and efficiency in order to advance the interests of our customers, our workers, our shareholders, the community, and the world.”


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