To understand why Urban Outfitters and American Apparel have declined so spectacularly, it’s helpful to remember what it was that made them so successful in the first place. In their heyday, each made a science of identifying exactly what it was that made hipsters so attractive, then recreated that aesthetic in their stores.
They mass-marketed the counterculture by honoring art, music, and fashion of the past; rejecting traditional lifestyles and careers; and appreciating irony. “You would flip through one of their lookbooks or walk into their stores and think, I am in this world,” Brandes recalls. They made a hard-to-define bohemian lifestyle accessible to an entire generation of young people growing up in the cookie-cutter suburbs.
Urban Outfitters and American Apparel identified their target audiences, moving into neighborhoods with a high density of 18 to 25 year olds who were beginning to experiment with their personal style and values. In college towns, students looking to express their newfound interest in indie rock or ’80s nostalgia could put together an entire look in a matter of minutes at one of these stores; they didn’t need to dig through bins of old T-shirts at Goodwill anymore. Even though you weren’t technically thrift shopping, the ambiance and layout inside these stores mimicked the experience, making you feel like you were stumbling across rare, special objects.
—Elizabeth Segran writing for Racked about the decline of the “hipster brand,” and why American Apparel and Urban Outfitters are struggling.