At American Apparel, New CEO Aims To Bring Order, Culture Shift

By Shan Li
Los Angeles Times.

LOS ANGELES

The alterations underway at American Apparel Inc. are evident in its advertising. Gone are the half-naked young women splayed on billboards and print ads. These days, the models tend to be fully dressed in the company’s hip basics.

The salacious images were part of the freewheeling style of founder Dov Charney. His tenure was also marked by loose corporate operations, financial losses and sexual harassment allegations that sparked a board revolt and Charney’s ouster last year.

American Apparel ads will still have an edge, some incorporating social issues such as gay rights, bullying or women’s equality, but they won’t be “sexual for sexual’s sake,” new Chief Executive Paula Schneider said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Schneider, a longtime clothing executive who took over in January, hopes to transform more than the advertising at the Los Angeles clothing firm, which employs nearly 10,000 people and operates almost 250 stores. In nearly five years, American Apparel has lost $310 million. Its debt totals more than $200 million.

Beyond toning down the oversexed image, Schneider aims to install a more grown-up structure and culture to replace Charney’s eccentric micromanagement. Schneider is focused on the boring-but-important details of hiring, and empowering, experienced managers and drawing up evaluation protocols and organizational charts.

Schneider, 56, has spent decades at clothing retailers and manufacturers. She has held senior executive positions at retailers such as BCBG Max Azria and Laundry by Shelli Segal. At BCBG Max Azria, she helped steer the company to profitability, and at Warnaco Group, she aided in a corporate restructuring.

Since arriving at American Apparel in January, Schneider has sought to order the corporate chaos without sacrificing the brand’s soul.

“It’s getting everybody in their lane and understanding we have a common goal,” she said. “There is tremendous energy here; there is tremendous love for the brand; there are tremendous ideas. It’s just a matter of saying: What do we do with them? How do we harness it? What do we do to move it down the road?”

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