Adrian Kowalewski is the director of Corporate Finance and Development at American Apparel, which will open a store on Broadway in time for the next school year. Kowalewski talked to the News about American Apparel, the new Broadway store and the chain’s popularity among college students.
Why New Haven?
We want to go where our customers are, and there’s a lot of Yale students and people in New Haven that buy our product online. We know that they are a lot of Yale grads who move on to New York after college, and they end up being our customers in New York City, so it kind of made sense to go into New Haven, where we know we have customers.
What explains American Apparel’s appeal with college students?
I think the appeal of American Apparel to college students is not unlike the appeal of our target market of young metropolitan adults. One of the reasons American Apparel has been so successful is that there haven’t been really clear destinations for high-quality fashion basics for young people. For us, because we make garments that are fit for younger, slimmer, body types, we’ve done really well and we’ve gotten a lot of people to use our products from our market.
What has American Apparel’s impact on local businesses been in the markets it has entered?
What’s happened is … there have been a lot more merchants that have come in following an entry of American Apparel. There are neighborhoods in the Lower East Side [of Manhattan], or Wicker Park in Chicago, where we were one of the first national brands. Our retail operation has only been around for four years. We’re not the same type of corporation as … the Gap. We’re less of an established player.
Our first few locations in New York City and Los Angeles we used to call community stores, because they really set up for serving the community as a place for people to come and look at local art and things of that nature. We’ve always approached the retail concept from a different perspective from other companies.
What advice to you have for aspiring student entrepreneurs?
I think the example of [American Apparel founder and CEO] Dov Charney is very helpful and even can be inspirational. In the early ’90s he dropped out of Tufts to pursue apparel production. Basically, it shows that you can take a very contrarian path toward business and be very successful. As long as you are passionate about something and you are pursing your passion, that’s probably the way that people are likely to be most successful. It isn’t necessarily about pursuing what the typical path is of your peers, and so forth. Yale students or Ivy League grads who are looking at careers in consulting and banking, that isn’t necessarily the best way to develop. Answering the needs of people in the market — that’s probably one of the best things you can do.
It’s difficult to find that situation when you’re just coming out as an undergraduate, especially at a liberal arts setting. Having the kind of exposure in general business settings can also make it easier identifying how to turn something into a viable business concept.