Recently, my group of friends were confronted with the task of obtaining costumes for Bay to Breakers which is an annual event in San Francisco that is essentially one long, crazy alcohol infused block party. The theme of our group was “Sesame Street” so naturally, everyone flocked to American Apparel for their outfits?!? There appeared no logic in this purchasing decision whatsoever. Yet, the store was packed with the prized 18-34 year old demographic in a line usually reserved for bread lines in Communist Russia. All were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to consume short shorts, tube socks and t-shirts at severely inflated prices. (In truth, besides my group, they really weren’t many in the 30+ zone, but please indulge me) It was also ironic that none of us ended up looking like Sesame Street characters. Additionally, nobody seemed to get my “Mexican Count”. Thankfully, amongst the other 30 odd people in our group they were a few legitimate costumes.
Despite or maybe because of a CEO that has been rumored to conduct interviews with attractive female applicants clad only in his briefs; American Apparel continues to thrive as one of the most distinctive and identifiable brands in existence today. The edgy clothing retailer has now become an afterthought as the go to destination for t-shirts, hoodies, leggings, or if you simply wish to look like you live in Brooklyn and love Tom Waits. Put it this way, if you play in a kickball league you immediately know where everybody is going to get your team uniform. Ditto if you’re an Internet start-up and want to make a company sweatshirt. This phenomenon all started as incredibly savvy, well positioned marketing strategy that properly targeted the influencers and hipsters on both coasts. The combination of a borderline pornographic ad campaign, which cheekily used store employees as models and the increasing popularity of all things “indie” fueled the conversation regarding the brand amongst tastemakers. The eventual migration into the mainstream’s consciousness was inevitable and continues to be amplified to the masses via good old fashioned, word-of-mouth marketing. In the trendy Marina in San Francisco that fateful morning, one can clearly envision hordes of twenty-somethings asking their peers where they were purchasing costumes for the big event and all receiving the same ubiquitous response of… “American Apparel.”
The funniest part is that American Apparel does not sell anything unique. One could easily mistake their clothes for Hanes except made to fit Smurf sized humans. Their catalogue contains mostly simple, basic items in a wide variety of colors that are made to fit either heroin junkies or a 20 year old Brit rockers, which I guess is really the same thing. The adoring public continues to pay incredible premiums on v-necks just for the opportunity to purchase it from a guy with an ironic moustache, who secretly despises you. However, there I stood, anxiously waiting in line ready to pay $50 for some tube socks and green “Prefontaine” shorts. Many came out with a befuddled face like my friend Ali below who paid $20 for a headband. However, deep down we both know we’ll be back because we’re that dumb and American Apparel is that smart.