American Apparel was one of the few major imprintable mills that manufactured all of their products in the United States—in California, no less. However, the company was forced into bankruptcy due to bad management and was acquired by the Canadian textile conglomerate Gildan.
Almost immediately, the company began offering American Apparel “worldwide” products that were manufactured at an offshore facility and are available for a lower price than the USA-made. The idea was that you could get an American Apparel–style product at a lower price than a USA-made product.
With the US and China raising tariffs on each other over the last year, I offer one data point about how this is working out. American Apparel announced two broad changes to their pricing, effective December 31, 2018:
all products made in the USA will be more expensive.
selected products manufactured outside of the US will be less expensive.
Let the logic of that sink in…
The full announcement was sent to wholesale customers in an email, but the message—all of it plain text—was sent in an image. (Sidebar: why are people doing that again?) You can see the image of the announcement included in this post.
American Apparel Warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, circa 2012
Although American Apparel earned a tarnished reputation for its racy ads and the repeated sexual harassment lawsuits filed against its founder, the company produced the best available shirts for screen printers. This is not to mention its commitment to manufacturing in the United States, specifically southern California, and some innovative designs. As one printer mentioned on a website I can’t find in my bookmarks, before American Apparel, it was virtually impossible to find 40-single, lightweight ring-spun cotton shirts. After American Apparel, this became an industry standard. In other words, that soft cotton t-shirt you’re wearing right now wasn’t widely available before American Apparel.
The company as we knew it no longer exists. American Apparel filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and, earlier this year, it was acquired by Gildan, a leading manufacturer of imprintables that manufactures most of its products outside the US and its home country of Canada, for $88 million.
For someone who preferred to use American Apparel for printing, I found that I have three options going forward:
Source from the new American Apparel. Earlier this year, Gildan revived the brand and its made-in-USA offerings, but the selection is extremely limited. Gone, for example, are the poly-cotton neon heather pink shirts that my Ball Busters team wore last year. Pricing seems to be about the same as it was with the old company, but, given that Gildan intends to recover its $88 million investment in the company, it seems reasonable to presume that there must be some differences in manufacturing.
Source from another mill. Since I knew that I wasn’t going to reliably source American Apparel shirts forever, I started to look for some alternatives. I used a few Gildan cotton shirts, particularly the ring-spun Soft Style, and a few other shirts from Bella and Canvas and Next Level Apparel. But I found that for the price, the best shirts I’ve printed come from Tultex. The shirts are made overseas, but they work almost as well for water-based printing as American Apparel shirts. The innovations of American Apparel have indeed become “industry standard.”
Source from Los Angeles Apparel. American Apparel founder, Dov Charney, returned with a new company. Los Angeles Apparel manufactures its shirts in South Central Los Angeles, with the seemingly identical business model that he used for American Apparel. The company’s offerings are very limited, but the first ones are similar to the best-selling products from American Apparel: a ringspun cotton jersey shirt, a 50/50 poly-cotton t-shirt, and a poly-rayon-cotton triblend t-shirt, for example. The colors are also similar to the American Apparel line, but they by no means match the old or current American Apparel line.
Los Angeles Apparel Tri-Blend T-Shirt in Tri-Black
American Apparel Tri-Blend T-Shirt in Tri-Black
While the old American Apparel is gone, the seem to be some choices for us. Each of them offers some advantages. There seems to be some continuity between new and old American Apparel products and, for those cases where I want to match the look of an older style (and where such stock exists), this seems to be a good option. I’ve been using the Tultex shirts, and those shirts have been well-received. Finally, Los Angeles Apparel seems to be a good option for a new look with a manufacturing process that we liked with the old American Apparel and to support manufacturing in Los Angeles, and I plan to these these shirts for upcoming projects.