American Apparel Tries Spinning Straw Into Gold, Sells Scraps as Eco-Clothes

Last Updated May 11, 2010 6:15 AM EDT

Whether it's featuring porn stars on its billboards or the F-word in its ad copy, American Apparel (APP) knows how to get attention. Now, the sassy clothier has unveiled possibly its cheekiest move yet: The company has made its leftover fabric into thong underwear and hair bows and is asking customers to buy the goods because it will help the environment by keeping scraps out of landfills.

The company's new Creative Reuse line offers 45 different items such as belts, bras and hairbands, made from "repurposed and excess materials." In other words, fabric scraps that were left after the chain's pants and dresses were cut from the bolt. The signature product in the line is simply a bag of scraps that sells for $8, sold with a page of project suggestions. The crafting community seems skeptical that DIYers will pay that much for fabric scraps when they can hit a garment district and get some free.

By organizing the small items into a collection and promoting them together, American Apparel supplements its organic-cotton line and tries to build its eco-cred. But it remains to be seen if young shoppers will shell out $24 for a tie or $10 for a little hair bow that they are now told was cut from an otherwise unusable bolt-end. Knowing that the material was essentially surplus may make the goods seem pricey, especially when many of their undergarments only have a few square inches of fabric in them.

The introduction of the Creative Reuse line raises the question of what was happening to the scraps before Creative Reuse was born. There aren't many options. The scraps were being sold to rag merchants, carted to the dump at a cost to the company, or were already being made into accessories and underwear. If you've ever visited a clothing factory, you know that little is usually left over, as the garments are carefully laid out to use up every possible inch of the fabric.

It's unlikely American Apparel has recently become more efficient in using fabric, so bet on option three. This isn't a change in manufacturing -- just a change in marketing.

Oh, and lest viewers get confused, the signature shot for the collection is a topless model wearing a nude thong and just a few strands of fabric draped around her neck. No question -- it's still American Apparel.

Photo via Flickr user Oracio Alvarado; Scrunchies model courtesy of American Apparel.

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.