Nobody puts Dov Charney in a corner.
The unrelenting American Apparel founder and former chief executive officer has been desperately cooking up various plans to get back into the company since his ouster late last year. Friday’s announcement that he’s now working with investment firm Cardinal Advisors LLC on a potential bid only confirmed long-standing chatter.
But for as much head-shaking as Charney’s often loud attempts to wriggle back into the company has created, the question remains: What’s within the walls of American Apparel’s headquarters at 747 Warehouse Street in downtown Los Angeles that makes it worth going through all the stresses and public spectacles that have unfolded over the past year? Equally, does all the sturm und drang over the struggling retailer ultimately boil down to egos or idealism about what American Apparel symbolizes for U.S. manufacturing?
Charney built the company, a shining star on not only the Los Angeles apparel manufacturing landscape but also for U.S. manufacturing. He was hailed by workers for fair wages, but also drew headlines for more unsavory shenanigans regarding his libertine behavior; numerous allegations of sexual harassment; financial settlements of some of those claims, and criticisms of micro-managing staff.
He has claimed numerous times now in lawsuits that he was unjustly removed from the company as part of a plot — one that includes the New York hedge fund Standard General he at one time considered an ally — to get him out of American Apparel and put it up for sale.
Charney declined to comment Friday beyond what was in his announcement. Cardinal declined comment, citing its active advisory position in the matter.
Regardless, the fact remains that if Charney’s latest attempt to win back the company has any chance of success, he’ll have to string together a significant chunk of cash.
American Apparel’s valuation ranges from about $180 million to $270 million, according to an analysis conducted by Moelis & Company and disclosed in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in October. Cardinal Advisors was cofounded by a former Moelis executive. The company’s valuation is down significantly from the $1 billion it had at one time.
New management that’s been in place for the better part of a year now hardly batted an eyelash when asked for its take on the news that Charney had tied up with Cardinal Advisors.
“There’s no comment,” said American Apparel ceo Paula Schneider at a desk inside her office at company headquarters Friday.
“I believe very, very strongly and there’s all the proof, too, that’s in our statements and in all of our filings, that the bondholders will own the company in a very short period of time. And I don’t think that there’s anything that’s going to change with that,” she said. “And the bondholders who are turning their debt into equity are very bullish on the company. They’re very bullish on the management team and they see great potential here and they’re giving us all the funds that we need to do it.”
Schneider has been plotting a turnaround at the company since being tapped as ceo, but has been something of a punching bag at times by some of the workers looking to unionize and reinstate Charney. That was carried out to near literal levels in a public protest by workers outside headquarters in August. The gathering, which the union dubbed a political statement, involved a piñata resembling Schneider that was paraded around and then broken to reveal chocolate coins and play money to signal worker discontent for management. A spokesperson for the company confirmed Charney has submitted an indication of interest but there is no transaction for the board to consider, adding, “American Apparel evaluates all indications of interest consistently, and in the ordinary course.”
American Apparel filed for bankruptcy in early October after limping along for nearly a year under the weight of what Schneider said in an interview with WWD earlier this year was expensive debt and mounds of excess inventory.
A group of lenders that included funds associated with Standard General, Monarch Alternative Capital, Coliseum Capital, Pentwater Capital Management and Goldman Sachs Asset Management provided the $90 million debtor-in-possession financing, in a debt-for-equity swap that will be converted once American Apparel exits bankruptcy.
New design team members have been wooed from companies such as Band of Outsiders to revive the product offering, which — according to Schneider — customers have responded favorably to. The spring 2016 assortment, set out on display for Friday inside what’s dubbed as the war room at American Apparel, was described has having a more elevated, mature feel. There were new linen and denim fabrications and better fits on items, such as men’s pants.
But while the look may be evolving, only time and the numbers will tell if the plan sticks.
There are two battles being waged, one internal to prop American Apparel back on its own two feet and the other, external and far louder, on who is best suited to lead the company following its restructuring, which would allow it to emerge with debt of about $135 million, down from $300 million.
Despite differing views on Charney, he’s undoubtedly intertwined with the brand, pointed out a Cardinal executive, who requested anonymity. As for the likelihood of Charney stitching together is own lifeline to return to American Apparel, the executive added one only need review the retailer’s history to find the answer: “He’s done it before.”