5 Questions for Raz Schionning, Director, Web Services, American Apparel

  • by August 24, 2006

With a staff of 25 designers, developers, project managers, and writers, Raz Schionning oversees American Apparel's Web site, global online stores, and online marketing. Prior to joining the fast-growing chain, Schionning was vice president of production at digital agency AKQA, and director of production at Pantheon Software.

What were some of American Apparel's biggest digital media and marketing initiatives over the last few months? And do Web 2.0 tools like social networking figure into your approach?

>Our Web marketing campaigns have matured a lot over the past year; we've learned so much about the types of images and messages that people respond to. It seems trivial, but doing strategic A/B testing has allowed us to prove and disprove a lot of assumptions about who our customers are and what they are actually compelled by. I could also point to specific efforts as having been very rewarding, like our recent "virtual store" opening in Second Life [the online 3-D world].

As far as Web 2.0 tools go, American Apparel is well known for "pushing the boundaries" in our ads. This same ambition translates to thinking about innovative new ways to marketing on the Web. While technology has arguably distanced us from one another, the social networking aspects of the Internet have an amazing ability to draw very different groups together. Thus dialogue and direct exchange of ideas with our customers is an important aspect of our current and future development plans.

More fundamentally, we no longer look at marketing campaigns as putting a lot of effort into just a few outlets. The successful Web marketer today needs to find ways to broaden the message into multiple channels. This can manifest itself as building virtual stores in Second Life or encouraging viral video campaigns on YouTube.

What is AA's brand proposition/mission, and how does it influence or contribute to your online marketing strategy?

>Despite making some very simple and uncomplicated clothing, the American Apparel brand is surprisingly complex. But at the core, it really is about the clothes. People respond to American Apparel because it represents an easy-to-wear and relaxed style. It's very unpretentious and unapologetically casual.

When we started marketing our products online, we followed some predictable approaches that proved unsuccessful. We reflected on what the brand represents and went back to basics. Our focus is on the clothes: how good you look and how comfortable you feel in them. This clicked  or clicked-through, to be exact  and the results speak for themselves.

 What is the most vexing issue facing your business now?

>Growth. The biggest challenge we've faced has been keeping up with our phenomenal success. We're constantly building, rebuilding, and redefining our methods and infrastructure to support the growth. Honestly, it's exhausting, but it's the kind of tired that makes you feel like you've done a good job  and I never forget that many people wish they had our problem.

What opportunities do you see for American Apparel to partner with online and offline properties for product placement or branded entertainment?

>You probably don't know it, but American Apparel is already seen in plenty of movies and TV shows. Because we don't slap our logos on anything, our brand is really an "unbrand." Our most successful product is one of the world's most ubiquitous: the T-shirt. One of the ways we made ourselves known in the early days was through our wholesale business. We sell a lot of T-shirts to concert promoters; chances are that the shirt you bought at that indie rock show last weekend was printed on American Apparel.

If you were not in your present position, what would you most like to do?

>I'd probably be making video games. My first job was with Magnet Interactive Studios in Washington, D.C. Within a couple of months they downsized and refocused the business from making games to "new media" marketing and advertising. I'm convinced the only reason I wasn't fired was because nobody knew my name.
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