American Apparel has reopened in the UK – but this time it’s an online-only business.
The retail brand has returned as a pureplay 18 months after its previous owners went into administration in November 2016. Back then, an offshoot of the original North American business of the same name and operated by subsidiary companies American Apparel (UK) Ltd and American Apparel (Carnaby) Ltd, was a Top350 retailer in IRUK Top500 research and had 13 stores in the UK. It failed at a time when its US parent company was being sold and stopped shipping to its UK subsidiaries, which were not part of that sale. The US business subsequently failed and Canadian company Gildan bought its assets in 2017, launching a US website last year.
Now the American Apparel brand has returned to the UK with the launch of a new website, where the emphasis is ethical and sustainability issues, featuring ‘ethically made – sweatshop free’ banner and case studies on the people who work for its parent company in central America, the Dominican Republic and Bangladesh.
Gavin Lowther, head of digital at Visualsoft, says the move to digital-only is an interesting one in a challenging retail market.
“In previous years, established retail brands have dominated high streets across the country through the power of their name alone,” he said. “However, the reliance on brick-and-mortar means that many of the UK’s ‘top’ retailers are bloated, expensive and susceptible to more agile online-only brands, as evidenced by the demise of retail giants Toys ‘R’ Us and Maplin.
“While only time will tell if American Apparel’s move to the pure-play digital space will be commercially successful, the vast majority of the UK’s top retailers currently stunt their growth potential by neglecting their online offering, demonstrating the growth opportunities for forward-thinking retail brands who take the time to optimise their online presence. Following American Apparel’s lead, and prioritising online, could be key to reviving the fortunes of flagging retail giants, such as M&S and Debenhams.”
Ed Bussey, chief executive and founder of Quill, said: “Following its collapse in 2016, American Apparel’s return to the UK as an online-only store shows that even the most troubled of brands has the potential to rise from the ashes. Whilst the company’s new digital focus seems an astute choice given the ongoing footfall and spending challenges faced by the high street, if American Apparel are to successfully relaunch, they will need to be absolutely uncompromising about their online customer experience.
“The UK ecommerce market is already dominated by tech – and convenience – focused fashion pureplays like ASOS, Boohoo and Missguided – so to compete successfully, American Apparel will have to offer a savvy product set, fast and inexpensive delivery options (currently their express delivery option still takes up to nine days), and a seamless online shopping journey. To win, they will also need to maximise their online performance with best-in-class content – specifically product and category descriptions that are optimised to drive conversions, AOVs and organic traffic. This will be crucial to securing the company’s online future.”