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American Apparel, London

With its new Covent Garden store, the US young fashion retailer has established an arena for its colourful styles.

The opening of LA retailer American Apparel’s store in London’s Covent Garden was a whirlwind process. No sooner had it launched its first Scottish branch in Glasgow in mid-November than UK and Ireland general manager Brent Chase was down in London unveiling two new stores, one on Oxford Street at the beginning of December and just a week earlier the biggest of the three, on Neal Street in Covent Garden. “It was an intense couple of weeks,” smiles Chase. “But it’s worth it – I finally have the space I need to show what American Apparel has to offer, and these new stores give us a real presence in the UK.”

Designed by the same New York architectural agency as all American Apparel’s shops, the Covent Garden shopfit features white-washed walls, with wire-mesh hanging areas and bright strip lighting. The mini-warehouse look is livened up with flashes of grey and pink. “The strip lighting is a Japanese idea called daylighting. We use it across all our stores to show off the product colourways. Our stores are all about the colour options, so we want to make sure that USP is obvious.”

The store is split into two floors, with womenswear and kidswear on the main floor, and men’s and unisex pieces in the basement. Product is largely grouped by style, but is not defined by category, so basic T-shirts in black, white and grey sit next to rails of purple, red and gold lamé miniskirts and hot pants.

Womenswear takes up three quarters of the ground level, with swimwear and sports styles sitting at the back next to kidswear. “We make the womenswear the focus as you walk into the store because our customer demographic is roughly a 60/40 split of women to men,” explains store manager Benedicte Bara.

Down the metal grated stairs is a smaller basement, housing menswear and unisex product.

Together the two levels cover 3,000sq ft, and the size of the store in comparison to the Carnaby Street shop is of particular importance to Chase. “Carnaby Street was too cramped, so I wanted make sure the new stores could showcase everything more clearly,” he says. “We also want to keep adding more fashion-led product to our range, so a bigger store allows for that growth.”

The store’s clientele spans fashion-forward teens through to busy mothers looking for key basics and eco-conscious 20-somethings keen to keep their clothing ethical.

All of American Apparel’s clothing is made in its LA warehouse which, according to Bara, pays its workers one of the highest rates of all warehouse staff across the US. “We make an effort to really take care of people working for us. If people work well, they produce better,” she says. However, prices remain competitive and start at £3 for headbands and £10 for T-shirts, rising to £46 for corduroy trousers.

So is Chase not worried about saturating the market with too many stores? “I was a little concerned that the Oxford Street store would take business away from Carnaby Street, but it hasn’t. I’m confident there is enough demand for our product.”

26-28 Neal Street, London WC2H

Essentials:
160:
Number of American Apparel stores worldwide
8: Number of American Apparel stores in the UK
60/40: The womenswear to menswear product split in store
3,000sq ft: Floorspace at the Neal Street store

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