Retail

Dov Charney Plots His Post-American Apparel Comeback

Dov Charney is nothing if not a memorable character on the retail landscape. The controversial and colorful former CEO of American Apparel both oversaw its meteoric rise from t-shirt business to fashion empire and its crashing fall into bankruptcy.

He’s looking to get back in the saddle again, and that journey looks to be starting in the garment mills of Los Angeles.

South Central Los Angeles to be specific — best known nationally as the home to riots following the Rodney King verdict almost a quarter of a century ago.

Charney says he is looking for a factory there, a few miles from American Apparel’s manufacturing hub. He’s hoping to restart a struggling part of L.A.

“Downtown L.A., I made it cool,” Charney said of American Apparel’s neighborhood, where it opened its headquarters in 2000, not far from Skid Row. “The problem is: I can’t go back there. I can’t afford it. The next place I intend to make cool is south of the 10 freeway, right on the banks of downtown.”

“I have a vision,” Charney said. “My business model works.”

That vision includes higher-than-minimum-wage pay, a focus on worker rights on the production side of the business and American-made basics, like underpants and t-shirts. Those t-shirts can then be sold wholesale to screen printers and will eventually go toward a consumer-facing eTail brand.

With an edge — because Dov Charney is still Dov Charney.

“We hope to create a brand that captures the attention of the world,” said Charney, who first talked about his new venture last week on PBS during an interview with Tavis Smiley. “It will be irreverent and authentic.”

How he plans to fund this venture is unknown and has, so far, only been described with the phrase “will be interesting.” But Charney has a knack for raising funds, as evidenced by his recent last-ditch attempt to purchase American Apparel out of bankruptcy (the judge declined in favor of the selling to the firm’s bondholders).

Charney’s backer in that attempt, Hagan Capital Group, initially said it would put up $20 million for Charney’s new venture. The firm remains in talks with him about the endeavor, said Managing Partner Chad Hagan.

“Dov still has a lot of work left in him,” said Hagan. “He’s a very talented entrepreneur.”

“I’m not interested in doing something that’s not culturally relevant,” Charney said. “With American Apparel, I wasn’t selling to Middle America. I went into the heart of New York, L.A. and London. I went for the most challenging markets. I want to do that again.”

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