By  on March 31, 2005

MIAMI — There’s a new store chain spreading across North America, and it’s got a hipster quotient that some retailers only dream about.

While New Yorkers and Angelenos are already familiar with American Apparel’s brightly lit, stark stores, the rest of the country is now getting a taste of its revved-up basics — sort of Old Navy for the Strokes set — for women, men and children.

The Los Angeles-based manufacturer of cut-and-sewn textiles, founded in 1997, has busied itself with the retail sector lately. Launching its first store in Montreal in 2003, the brand has rapidly opened or scheduled doors from Miami to Boston, Baltimore to Portland, Ore., and Chicago to Phoenix. Founder Dov Charney reports there are approximately 30 U.S. locations and plans to add 20 more in the next two years. Seattle, Denver and Evanston, Ill., are among the sites slated for this month alone. Charney already owns 18 additional stores throughout Canada and Europe and plans to expand in Asia and Mexico.

“They’re riding a nice wave of customer acceptance,” said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies for Kurt Salmon Associates, a management consulting firm in New York. “They’re doing a lot of right things — right fashion, right price, right social agenda.”

To understand the aggressive retail venture, what sets its product apart from household T-shirt names, and why it maintains underground credibility with readers of magazines such as Vice — one of the few outlets for its barely there print advertising — knowing Charney is key. His maverick corporate style and his strong workers’ rights beliefs, including above-minimum wages and what the company dubs “sweatshop-free” conditions, have piqued the interest of the media and business schools.

“We’ve isolated ourselves a bit. We really don’t follow trends or anything traditional,” Charney said.

From his student days at Choate, T-shirts were in Charney’s destiny. He sold silk-screened Hanes shirts until he started making his own in 1990, learning the craft on the East Coast. Today all production takes place in Los Angeles. According to Charney, business boomed with the introduction of women’s baby T-shirts, a rave-inspired trend that revolutionized the industry in the mid-Nineties.

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