American Apparel aims to empower with diverse, female-led rebrand
Headed by an all-female executive team, the LA-based brand attempts to distance itself from the controversial campaigns of its past with an empowering and inclusive rebrand that does away with underage-looking models, in favour of a diverse and authentic aesthetic.
The brand’s new “Back to Basics” ads, which began appearing at the end of last year, were produced by a small in-house team made up of both male and female photographers. The photos feature minimal retouching, and models and paid influencers are also nowhere to be seen, as the ads spotlight ordinary people, in line with an inclusive marketing strategy which seeks to showcase diverse body types and ethnicities.
Furthermore, in what appears to be an attempt to put an end to criticism concerning the age of models featured in American Apparel ads, a recent casting call issued by the brand asked that applicants be “25 or older”. The change did not go unnoticed on social media, with one Instagram user commenting "Finally less sexualized pre-pubescent bodies in their ads."
The brand has not, however, completely cut its ties with the seductive and flirtatious image for which it has become famous, as highlighted by head of brand marketing Sabina Weber, who described the new campaign to Adweek as “honest, direct, playful, inclusive, sexy and occasionally slightly provocative.”
“Women feel so conflicted about being sexual right now, but we’re taking a position to still be sexy, unapologetically so, but from an empowered female perspective,” she added, emphasizing the change of perspective that underlies the company’s rebrand.
As part of this shift, efforts have also been made to ensure that male models are shot in similar poses and wearing the same amount of clothing as their female counterparts.
Another feature retained from previous American Apparel campaigns is the presence of armpit hair on female models, the inflammatory nature of which, Weber confessed, leaves her perplexed. "Even as we feel we are evolving and making strides, women are still so angry and judgmental when another woman dares to show her body," she stated.
Until recently, the company, founded by Dov Charney in 1989 and acquired by Gildan Activewear at the beginning of 2017, courted controversy with its overtly sexualized marketing images, which often featured young-looking women in compromising or vulnerable positions. Some of the photos were shot by Charney himself, who was ousted as CEO in 2014 following a series of sexual harassment allegations.
The American Apparel rebrand comes at a time when, in the wake of a string of high-profile sexual harassment controversies involving big-name photographers such as Terry Richardson and Bruce Weber, the fashion industry is being forced to face up to some searching questions concerning some of its practices.
Due to the ease with which information can now be shared via social media, brands are having to be more open about the steps they are taking to actively combat sexual harassment in their companies. It is a drive for greater transparency that feeds into the current trend for brands to be more authentic and to reflect the values of their consumers more fully.
Campaigns for change in the fashion industry have also been launched by other organizations worldwide. The British Fashion Council, for example, recently joined the British Fashion Model Agency Association as part of the Models First initiative, which aims to develop a charter of best practice that will protect and give a voice to models working in the UK, while in France, companies are now legally obliged to disclose retouching in their marketing.
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