By  on September 23, 2005

NEW YORK — In the coming months, American Apparel, the Los Angeles-based firm known for its simple, high-quality underwear, has a heavy expansion schedule with stores opening everywhere from New York to Tokyo and cities in between, locations where an urban youth customer has been identified.

The company today will open its first Tokyo unit in Daikanyama, which will be followed in October by a store in Shibuya. A shop will be unveiled in October in Myungdong, South Korea, another new market. Also next month, the second and third Parisian locations are scheduled to open in the Marais and the 10 arrondissement.

"American Apparel has a particular client," said Dov Charney, the company's founder. "There's this new urban class that we're chasing. They're in Montreal, we know they're in Paris and we know they're in London. We've identified a younger Boomer or Generation Xer that's settling down."

In New York, the company believes its target customer is concentrated downtown. In addition to four existing stores on the Lower East Side, in NoHo, SoHo and the West Village, American Apparel has signed a lease in TriBeCa for a 3,500-square-foot unit at 140 West Broadway. As well as serving a neighborhood shopper, Charney said he hopes the TriBeCa location will alleviate stress on the busy SoHo store.

In November, the company will continue its march on Manhattan with stores opening in Chelsea, Columbus Circle and Madison Square Park. The boroughs aren't being ignored, either. Joining a store in downtown Brooklyn will be a unit in Park Slope opening in December.

A strategy that includes opening three to four stores a month, leaving no stone unturned in target markets and producing edgy, controversial ad campaigns has propelled the 70-unit American Apparel into one of the fastest-growing retailers in the U.S., with $250 million in sales.

"The world can sustain 1,000 stores for this brand," Charney said, noting that vertically integrated American Apparel, with company-owned factories in Los Angeles, produces one million garments a month. "American Apparel has the potential for many more stores since we make the stuff already. That doesn't mean we can't come up with another store concept."The store count could reach 500 units in five years, he said.

Charney, who is being sued for sexual harassment by several former female employees, declined to discuss the matter through a publicist. "There is no news about the lawsuit," she said.

His reputation for being outspoken and provocative is apparent in the company's controversial ads, which he claims are partly responsible for its success. One group features young underwear-clad men and women posed in provocative positions. Another ad features Charney's naked posterior, while the headline on another reads: "F--- the brands that are f---ing the people."

"We're trying to keep the ad campaign intriguing," he said. "Politically correct academia, which has gone too far, has teamed up with the conservative, moral right."

If American Apparel is attractive to investors, Charney has no interest in going public. "All of a sudden, you're dealing with a whole bunch of shareholders who are only interested in the bottom line," he said. "You have to lower yourself to the common denominator of a board of directors. An IPO is an option, but I'm avoiding it."

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