As CEO of American Apparel, Paula Schneider had to fix a retailer bleeding money and steer it through a restructuring under bankruptcy protection. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
The executive also had to fend off death threats, see a piñata with her likeness get beaten to smithereens in American Apparel’s parking lot, and contend with dozens of lawsuits lobbed by American Apparel’s founder and ousted CEO Dov Charney.
Now, in her newly announced job as CEO of DG Premium Brands, whose brands include 7 For All Mankind, Splendid and Ella Moss, and which is a unit of Israeli-based Delta Galil Industries, Schneider is looking forward to guiding that business through the challenging apparel market in what will nonetheless be a comparatively drama-free job. (Galil bought these businesses in June from VF Corp
, the parent company of The North Face and Vans.)
“I don’t have a bodyguard here so it’s already better,” Schneider quipped at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit on Tuesday.
Schneider stepped down from American Apparel last month because the sale process of the struggling retailer was impeding her efforts, according to Women’s Wear Daily.
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Earlier in her career, before taking the reins at American Apparel, Schneider headed several retail brands including BCBG Max Azria, Laundry by Shelli Segal, and Warnaco, the major swimwear brand she restructured.
Schneider was hired by American Apparel’s board in January 2015, soon after it fired Charney, to restore order to the chaotic company. The board had suspended him from the CEO role the preceding June. While he was chief, Charney faced repeated accusations of sexual harassment from store employees, though he has said that he was not forced out of the company for that reason. (The company’s board of directors said at the time the ouster “grew out of an ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct.”)
“The board was looking for a woman who could be the antacid to the acid,” Schneider said. The retail veteran was attempting to rescue an iconic but imperiled company that had lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the five preceding years and not turned a profit since 2009. The company filed for bankruptcy just over a year ago to clean up its finances and start with a new slate.
But from the get-go, some employees and former employees were seeking to undermine her, Schneider said. In addition to the piñata incident and the threats, Schneider says once got a picture of a corpse that looked very much like her.
“It was a t-shirt company and I had death threats. I mean, really, ” Schneider said.
She was also trying to orchestrate a turnaround plan that focused on reducing store count, cutting jobs, and playing down the extremely racy ads that had been a hallmark of American Apparel for years. Though she’s not at the company anymore, Schneider said she’s heard that her plan is starting to work.
Still, her time at American Apparel was not without its fun. Schneider, an unabashed Hillary Clinton supporter, took particular delight in ordering up “Make America Gay Again” hats that riffed off of Republican candidate Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, and filling the windows of the American Apparel store in Trump Plaza with the hats, to what she described as her general counsel’s consternation.
“It was great fun for me,” Schneider recalled. “Hey, I had a piñata, at least I could have that.”