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Is American Apparel losing its (neon) shirt because it ignored its core audience?

August 19, 2010 |  7:09 am

American Apparel American Apparel, the sportswear company proudly "made in downtown L.A." may be on its last legging-clad legs.

The global brand, founded by the famously outspoken Dov Charney, saw its stock fall 21.3% on Wednesday, ending at an all-time low of 81 cents, according to Los Angeles Times reporter Andrea Chang ("American Apparel's shares plummet 21% as doubts rise about its future").

Additionally, it failed to file its second-quarter earnings, and it's been subpoenaed by the United States attorney for the southern district of New York after switching accounting firms. 

This isn't the first time American Apparel has been in peril. Before receiving a cash infusion from a third party, Endeavor Acquisition Corp., through a reverse merger, and transitioning into a publicly traded company in 2007, the firm was nearing bankruptcy.

But teetering on the edge of disaster is apparently Charney's style. After going public, the founder and his new partners went into major expansion mode -- opening stores all over the world, despite the seemingly obvious dilemma of how to keep a company steeped in cotton jersey viable once the popularity of leotards and V-neck T-shirts drops off.

And certainly the brand's aesthetics have begun to feel a little stagnant over the last few years -- including its basement-porno advertisements, which have, at long last, completely lost their shock value.

But perhaps the brand's bigger failing is neglecting to grow the merchandise with the customer base that made it a smash in the first place.

American Apparel hit the big time in the early 2000s, ensnaring twenty-somethings with the very same edgy ads and louche tees. But those twenty-somethings are now pushing 40, and they've moved on from harem pants and unitards.

No big deal -- the brand should hypothetically be connecting with the next generation of night crawlers.

But a recent glance at the brand's website showed the merchandise mix to be steeped in supreme novelty. Sheer pencil dresses, '80s one-piece swimsuits, mesh half-shirts, scrunchie-style hair clips. Where are the basics that made American Apparel a go-to for casual wear throughout the last decade?

Well, they're still there -- even the beloved solid-colored V-neck tee. But you have to hack through a wall of irony to get at them.

-- Emili Vesilind

Photo: New looks from American Apparel. Credit: American Apparel