Why American Eagle’s New Teen Brand is Doomed to Fail

No one likes a copycat.


With the Brandy Melville teen takeover, American Eagle won’t win back their teen customers by being a copycat.

Image source: American Eagle ae.com

According to the most recent research by Piper Jaffray in teen brands and spending, it looks like the #1 hot spot for teen apparel has been filled by none other than Brandy Melville. For many years, Forever 21 and American Eagle were the top. But like all things, what goes up, must come down. Nowadays, everything is fast and attentions are short. It’s not even enough for brands to stay abreast of trends. Sometimes, generations stick with brands they grew up on and often times, new brands are adopted by the next generation. It’s a cycle, like everything else. And I think Big Corp needs to accept they just can’t stay on top forever.

Source: Piper Jaffray

Brandy Melville seemed to emerge almost overnight (although it’s been in USA since 2012). The beloved teen brand went viral thanks to Instagram and swooped in to take center stage of American Eagle’s teen audience.

So how did AE react to the competition? By creating Don’t Ask Why, a collection initially launched as the ‘Made in Italy’ collection in August 2013, and re-branded September ’14.

The motivation was to shift the collection to a brand to compete with Brandy Melville – and in doing so, they created some of the exact same styles, with the exact ‘one size’ sizing model, also made in Italy, and with similar pricing.

On the Left: Brandy Melville styles, on the Right: AE’s Don’t Ask Why styles

Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the styles from this collection. And I love AE jeans a lot – which is what Brandy doesn’t have. There’s the weakness the execs missed.

So why do I think this new brand strategy is not going to work?  Because of several factors:

  1. The name is bad. ‘Don’t ask why’ What does that even mean?  Don’t ask why –what? Don’t ask why you’re knocking off a teen brand? Who came up with this? Using a negative or sarcasm in your brand name probably isn’t a good idea. I know, teens are sarcastic. But unless you are trying to hang with Nasty Gal, Local Heroes or Dolls Kill, I don’t suggest it. ‘Don’t Ask Why’ does not suggest: Made in Italy, sophisticated soft basics.
  2. Teens are not dumb. They can see what’s going on. Some will care, some will not. But for those who do, it’s kind of an insult to their intelligence.
  3. Brand Loyalty, Respect, Trust, Authenticity. Teens like Brandy because it is something to call their own, within a network that’s all their own. And it feels authentic to them. Teens like American Eagle for what it is. Awesome jeans and shorts. They may not be keen on a mainstream big box brand taking on an indie vibe for the masses. Just like Snapchat, teens like things where adults aren’t. 
  4. Collabs and social media works pretty well. Working out an underground collab with teens and teen models on IG with Brandy and AE jeans and shorts would have been a much better strategy to win back teen audience and gain influence as one of America’s #1 denim brands. Perhaps a strong social media strategy including hundreds – no, thousands of awesome shots of top influencers wearing your AE brand with the Brandy Melville brand. Brandy doesn’t do denim. But a lot of their shots on IG are girls in denim. The question you should have asked is, “why aren’t they wearing AE denim, and how can we fill that gap?”
  5. Unique is important for teens. Teens like finding clothes that set them apart from the others, mixing and matching styles they like. Teens like vintage, new, obscure, different and trendy. Jumping on a bandwagon, creating almost the exact same styles and competing with their favorite brand (and in some cases, charging more) may not win them over. It’s not original. It looks like a desperate attempt. If they want a mainstream brand to wear that emulates Brandy, they will head to Forever21, who is the queen of cheap, knock-off styles.
  6. Leader or Follower? Again, everyone expects F21 to knock off everyone, and it’s pretty much OK because they are a fast fashion company whose schtick is to offer whatever is trendy. But coming from AEO, the biggest American brand, it’s surprising, and may raise doubts.
  7. The brand message is confusing. I don’t understand how the one brand “Don’t Ask Why” can be a testing ground for your main brand “American Eagle”, with two separate labels. In an interview with Racked, Chad Kessler, AE Global Brand President states, “We use ‘Don’t Ask Why’ as a kind of testing lab for the American Eagle brand. For example, the team came back from Coachella with new silhouettes we hadn’t incorporated into the American Eagle collection yet, and now we have those in the works with ‘Don’t Ask Why’. We’ll bring those into ‘Don’t Ask Why’ stores in the next month or so, and if they work, we’ll roll them out for American Eagle.”  Man, WTF?
  8. Stick to What you Know. Denim is the key AE product and their kryptonite; not many big box retailers do it quite as good as AE in fit, quality, variety and price. Girls, teens and adults LOVE American Eagle denim. They just need to stick with that and not be something they’re not in an attempt to gain customers by “chasing” what’s already being done well. Teens love vintage high waist jeans. Don’t believe me, check out these vintage AEO shorts.  AE should do more of that.
  9. Many may not be OK with the ‘one size fits most’ strategy. In fact. Brandy has faced a lot of backlash from news, bloggers, customers and moms with it’s ‘one size’ (which is Small) strategy. A petition was launched at Change.org against American Eagle and Brandy with a “Stop the misrepresentation of women by the “One Size Fits All” label in clothing stores”

That’s my two cents. We all understand that imitation is the best form of flattery, but..no one likes a copycat.


Image sources: Brandy Melville, AE.com

DENIM: From the Drawing Board to the Dressing Room

What happens in the fashion world before that coveted garment ever hits the runway? Many people are unaware of the life cycle of a garment. From the time it is conceived in the mind of the Designer to the moment the factory breathes life into it and the second it enters a sales floor, it goes through stages of it’s own life. And each phase has it’s own story. Until my friends met me, they rarely thought to look beyond face value at a garment and realize there was actually a person who thought of every little detail.

Denim is chosen based on character weave, shades of indigo, weight, wash performance.  It needs to be able to translate the final story when the jean is complete. If it’s a broken in boyfriend jean, will it make much sense if it’s created with a polyester-heavy denim with a lot of stretch?  Of course not. It needs to be 100% cotton, or mostly cotton.. with a nice heavy starting weight that will stand up to destroyed finishes and stonewashing.

The zippers and buttons, though merely functional to the naked eye, were well thought out and designed by someone. Someone somewhere decided on that little detail for the garment. There are literally thousands of different denim button options to choose from: styles, colors, finishes, shapes.

The thread color was the idea of the designer.  Not all thread colors work well with every denim shade, finish or wash.

The shape of the back pockets; it’s placement on the jeans that determines the way your rear end will look. The back yoke shape and depth.  The waistband construction, which determines how well they will fit your waist.

There is a progression of stages, thoughts, science and art that is poured into every garment you’ll ever wear. The life of a garment travels through many hands and many places before it ever reaches yours. It starts with a drawing and raw fabric. A collaboration of designers, assistants, fabric and trim agents, patternmakers, cutters, sewers, finishers, washers, sales reps and marketers all have a part in creating a garment that you as a consumer choose to wear. No doubt we have all seen Project Runway and were fascinated by the drama, glamour and hopeful fame and fortune that the designers wish for. The truth is it isn’t all glamour, glitz and notoriety. It’s hard work with its share of tragedy and comedy, delays, financial loss, sweatshops, knockoffs, competition, snags and stress. We are dealing with thousands of apparel units and very strict deadlines. If you ever have the opportunity to visit an apparel manufacturing facility in downtown L.A. you will quickly learn that there is no glamour in fashion beyond a New York runway. There is no such thing as a designer without a chaotic workspace. This is the life of fashion that I know.

The Skinny on the Skinny (Jean) + Denim Report for F/W 2016-17

Skinny jeans have been all the rage for the last few years, and we all know that what goes up must come down.  As a veteran of Denim, I still hold the endearing wardrobe staple very close to my heart.  So what’s the status of the Skinny this season?

According to the most recent Denim Report created by the folks at the Denim by Premier Vision Show in Paris, the Skinny may be seeing it’s last season this Fall with high-waisted fits. Replacing the Skinny are athletic-inspired styles and fits (still slim, nonetheless) characterized with sport-active details such as thermal, windproof and UV-blocking fabrics, jogger-style ribbed hems and performance stretch fabrics.  Sounds pretty space-agey, right?  It’s no secret the athletic and athleisure sector has taken over the bottoms department for a time and blinded us all with curve-hugging, yoga-lovin’ shapes (whether we yoga or not).  But our denim is a tried and true love affair that can’t be pried from our hands too easily. So the alternative?  Marry the comfort and sport of athletic wear with our favorite pair of blue jeans–voila!  We get X-TREME DENIM.

Second in our forecast, is a more oversized carrot-leg style with dramatic dropped crotches, overlapped waistbands and tapered legs. Sounds a bit horrific, and perhaps the kinks will be worked out by Fall ’16-17.

We’ve already seen a few of these being worn by such celebs as Gwyneth Paltrow.

And my personal favorite finally arrives in full-swing:  High-waisted super bells, a ‘la 1970s. These, in particular, I will welcome with wide arms.



The Top Denim Trends for Juniors Back to School 2015 #BTS

Top MUST HAVE Denim Trends for Girls, Tweens and Juniors Fall 2015-16

If there’s one thing I know, it’s denim.  Having been a denim designer for about 10 years, I’ve seen the extreme highs and what seems to be the deep “blues” for the denim market.  Summer denim took a softer approach with lightweight chambray rompers, dresses, short-alls and comfy denim joggers.
But what’s around the corner for Fall?

Top MUST HAVE Denim Trends for Girls and Juniors Fall 2015-16

The Fall Winter themes for young contemporary denim, reflects on the fun days of the 90s, complete with all-over embellishments, shredding, patchwork and metal details, Indigo leopard prints, super-light stone washes and mixtures of playful prints.

Printed Denim
Simple Indigo prints are still going strong as well as Leopard prints

Embellished Denim – From jackets to Jeans

Patchwork, Rip and Repaired Jean

Tattered and Torn

The tattered and torn boyfriend jean is a must have for Fall and PacSun has an awesome assortment by Bullhead Denim


Pale blue stonewashes and bright bubblegum blues create a winning combination with your winter whites.

Brands Featured:  Bullhead Denim, Arizona, Guess?, Fendi, D&G, Scotch & Soda, HM, Zara.