It's been so back and forth for American Apparel.
Former-CEO Dov Charney was ousted in June of 2014 from the L.A. basics brand. Then he came back. Then fired again, but for real this time. The nonsensical theatrics that have arisen out of Charney's never-ending efforts to take back the company he founded make him an easy target for the company's present-day woes, even if there's more to the story.
Talking with Fortune, American Apparel said, "We believe that we may not have sufficient liquidity necessary to sustain operations for the next twelve months. These factors, among others, raise substantial doubt that we may be able to continue as a going concern." In layman's terms: American Apparel isn't likely to survive the next fiscal year. No, seriously.
It's so easy to target Charney's antics as the cause for the impending collapse, but the blame can't be placed only on him. While the former CEO and founder of American Apparel shaped the company into a haven for sexual misconduct and racy advertising—there's no doubt that that reputation is what stoked much of the company's early growth.
Aside from Charney's unabashed misconduct, the company was founded on some positive concepts. According to its website, the company is the largest manufacturer of clothing in the United States. During the brand's heyday, it was an unmistakable label of "cool" basics—something that the sexy ads only contributed to. Sure, the ads were controversial, but they also used that controversy to help introduce new fashion standards, including being one of the first major retailers to call for transgender models.
While the shop has built its current resume off of glittery leggings, and hipster cliches, even a condemning article from The Cut can admit that the brand was able to "recycle just the right historical wardrobe references," allowing the brand to grow from three stores in 2003 to 103 in 2006 to 280 stores in 2010. But while several pundits have laid the blame at Charney's feet (and rightly so), it seems like American Apparel is just as much a victim of today's clothing industry as it is the collateral damage of sexist former CEO.
With brands like J.Crew—a complete tonal shift from something like American Apparel—reeling from issues involving expansion, competition, and employee layoffs, it's not a stretch to think that American Apparel's brand of quirky basics has played itself out in a currently disinterested fashion market...Dov Charney-shaped problems notwithstanding. Even if Charney wasn't a gross boss, it's likely the brand would be buckling under today's current apparel and retail industry pressures.
That's not to say that Charney is helping the company though. Actively suing the brand he's trying to save for $40 million, while the company is facing major debt, isn't going to help things stabilize. But let's not get it twisted. At this point, while well-intentioned, it doesn't matter how progressive the changes new CEO Paula Schneider wants to make to the brand's image—it's still American Apparel.
Simply put, American Apparel can produce great, retro-inspired basics for years to come. However, it also needs that somewhat sketchy reputation. Take that away, and the brand loses not just its notorious aesthetic—but what made it risqué and appealing roughly a decade ago. There's little doubt that Charney knew he was playing a villain in the public sphere, he just hoped it would also translate to success and sales that, at least currently, aren't coming.
As Fortune notes, with 87 percent fall in share prices, "Wall Street sees little chance of avoiding a bankruptcy." It just seems fitting that a brand that built its business off making headlines, goes out that way too.