NEW YORK — Two independently owned activewear companies quietly opened stores here last month, but they aim to set up a place people will talk about.
American Apparel, a Los-Angeles- based company that advertises its T-shirts are produced in “sweatshop free” conditions in the U.S., and Bloch International, an Australian brand popular with professional dancers, introduced their first East Coast stores.
With art exhibitions, plasma TVs and couches, American Apparel hopes customers will linger. With a dance-minded sales staff, Bloch aims to attract regular visitors from the Upper West Side’s dance community around Lincoln Center. Both companies expect their stores to be meeting grounds for their respective like-minded shoppers.
A proponent of that concept, Ron Pompeii, founder of Pompeii AD, a marketing and design firm that is not affiliated with either company, said, “We’re starting to see people treated as complex beings rather than just consumers. We will see more of this. It’s very exciting.
“There is a very deep shift in values that’s going to necessitate that brands see themselves [as] much more than providing a commodity and lifestyle. They have to be creating a culture and not necessarily following or reflecting the existing one. They need to originate some type of cultural context that allows their offering to be seen in a much wider perspective and that brings more value to the engagement of their customer.”
American Apparel opened what it calls “a community store and gallery” at 373 Sixth Avenue near Waverly Place in Greenwich Village. Visitors to the 2,500-square-foot space can check out T-shirts in 35 colors and other activewear. There is also a photography exhibition by Luca & Dov, named in part for Dov Charney, American Apparel’s founder.
Instead of opening stores in a heavily trafficked commercial area, the company seeks out more neighborhood locales with young shoppers looking for affordable pieces. American Apparel offers 50 styles in eight fabrics.
“The premise of our stores is pretty straightforward. We’re here for the community, we’re not here to overtake New York City,” said Daryl Snyder, general manager of retail. “It’s a place to hang out. There are plasma TVs all over the store and we support a good cause [by being sweatshop-free].”
Knowing the new store would appeal to NYU students, the company offers them a 30 percent discount. Women are buying fitted $14 T-shirts, $30 fleece jackets, $22 long-sleeved thermal shirts and $50 bathrobes. White, black and heather gray are the most popular colors, but pink, baby blue, kelly green and lime green are also catching on with customers.
“Colors are like candy. Once they put one on, women want to try others,” Snyder said. “Everything is plain, instead of having writing across it. But there are so many variations of T-shirts.”
In November, American Apparel, which has stores in Los Angeles and Montreal, opened a 5,000-square-foot store in NoHo at 712 Broadway. A Luca & Dov exhibition is also on display there. There are plans to install new art exhibitions from local artists on a quarterly basis. “People are really grasping the concept of it,” Snyder said.
“Made in downtown LA” is printed on a sign near the Broadway store’s entrance. There are also in-store displays that highlight the corporate philosophy. Apparel is produced in company-owned factories in Los Angeles where workers own a living wage versus the minimum wage.
American Apparel is already closing in on leases for locations in SoHo and the Lower East Side, and plans to open stores there later this year. The company’s strategy is to have 20 stores by the end of the year. Dallas, Houston, Boston and Miami are among the other cities being considered, Snyder said.
Bloch International, an Australian company that caters to dancers, has opened its first U.S. store at 304 Columbus Avenue at West 74th Street. The company also has stores in London’s Covent Garden and in Sydney. Spare like a dance studio, the new 2,300-square-foot store on the Upper West Side is already popular with dancers from the American Ballet Theater, the New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, said Maura Flynn, manager.
“A lot of girls and younger dancers have been coming in with their mothers, since Steps, a dance studio, is nearby,” said Flynn, noting that most of the staff were or are dancers. “Product knowledge is big for the company. That’s what we’re good at.”
Founded in 1932, Bloch has been selling dancewear in the U.S. since 1986. The company produces performance-oriented dancewear, yoga and Pilates apparel and dance footwear. Bestsellers at the new store include $56 knit pants and a $36 knit wrap sweater from the Satya, the brand’s yoga and Pilates line. The line’s name refers to a Sanskrit word that means “the truth which equals love.”
“Right now the collection is espresso, black, taupe and gray, but going forward we will move into new colors,” Flynn said.