American Apparel… in Shenzhen!


Last weekend I was shocked to hear* that there’s an American Apparel store in Shenzhen. Although the Los Angeles-based company has shops in Japan and Korea, they’ve never set foot in Hong Kong.

Curious to get a closer look, I decided to head up to Shenzhen to investigate. But what I thought would be a simple trip turned into an adventure!

For those of you unfamiliar with American Apparel, they are a clothing company initially famous for their stylish, blank T-shirts. Over the years, American Apparel has cultivated a trendy, alternative image and grown from just making t-shirts, to producing a wide selection of fashionable basics. Along the way they’ve changed from being a wholesaler to a retailer and successfully transformed their clothing line into a brand.

Getting there part I: the adventure begins!

According to the map on American Apparel’s website, the store was supposed to be located close to the Shi Min Zhong Xin subway station in Shenzhen. With this in mind, it appeared to be an easy trip. I’d simply take Hong Kong’s East Rail train from Tsim Sha Tsui to Lok Ma Chau, and then transfer across the border to Shenzhen’s subway line. The Shi Min Zhong Xin station is just three stops away from the border.

There are several crossing points to enter into Shenzhen. Lo Wu is the busiest and most well known, while Lok Ma Chau is the newer and less crowded option. I’d never tried the Lok Ma Chau route before and was curious to check it out.

(Special tip: taking the East Rail from Tsim Sha Tsui East to Lok Ma Chau is relatively straightforward. One important thing to note – only some of the trains will travel to Lok Ma Chau, while most will end at Lo Wu. There are digital displays on the station platforms that clearly indicate which station the train is traveling to.)

Arriving at the Lok Ma Chau station, it was impressively clean and new. There were plenty of signs pointing the way to the Shenzhen subway.

shenzhen metro

The border wasn’t crowded, but immigration was a little slow, perhaps due to a new worker, and all of the extra precautions for swine flu.

Exiting immigration, you simply follow the signs and proceed downstairs to purchase a ticket for the Shenzhen metro. The machines are simple to use, provided you have RMB in coins or small notes. They operate similar to the ticket machines in Hong Kong’s MTR system: you touch the destination and the machine tells you how much the ticket costs.

shenzhen mtr train

Tickets range from 2 RMB to 5 RMB, depending on the distance. There is a service counter if you need to break large bills or ask questions. (Make sure you take some RMB with you to speed things up when you arrive!)

I’ve taken the subway system in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen before. All three are safe and convenient. Shenzhen’s subway is exceptionally clean and easy to use.

Judging from the map on American Apparel’s website, I only needed to take the train three stops and walk a few blocks.

shenzhen subway

Shi Min Zhong Xin is on line 4, which is the smaller of Shenzen’s two current subway lines. The journey only took around ten minutes from Lok Ma Chau.

Exiting the station onto the street, I was standing in front of a monumental structure. Before me was Shenzhen’s impressive Civic Center.

shenzhen civic center

The building is a sight to behold. It’s so massive that I couldn’t even fit it into one photo! The civic center has a curved roof that extends for several blocks. As far as architecture goes, its sheer size is inspiring.

shenzhen famous building

shenzhen architecture building

In front of it is an enormous open square surrounded by skyscrapers. (Many cities in China have these open “people’s squares,” which I suppose are used for patriotic events and celebrations. (The closest Hong Kong comes to an equivalent is Victoria Park.)

After walking around the area for thirty minutes, I realized that this was not the right place! I couldn’t find the entire shopping center, let alone the American Apparel store!

Luckily I found someone who recognized the street address and told me that it was near Lo Wu – basically, the other side of Shenzhen! I headed back towards the subway and called a friend, who confirmed that the location of the shop was indeed Guo Mao – one stop away from Lo Wu! So much for the map on American Apparel’s website!

Though I ended up in the wrong part of town, my time wasn’t completely wasted. At least I tried a new border crossing and got a good look at Shenzhen’s Civic Center.

Getting There Part II: Actually finding American Apparel!

Descending back into the subway, I traveled crosstown to Guo Mao, the second stop from Lo Wu on Shenzhen’s subway line 1. Guo Mao station is literally in the basement of King Glory Plaza, the shopping center where the store is located. Look for exit A.

king glory plaza shenzhen

shenzhen metro station

Taking the nearest escalator up, I spotted the American Apparel store, just opposite an outdoor food court.

american apparel china shenzhen

I walked into the store and took a look around. It’s a relatively large shop, similar to American Apparel stores in the U.S.

Those looking for cheaper prices normally associated with shopping in Shenzhen will be disappointed. The clothing appears to cost the same as it does in the U.S.. For simple shirts, the prices are relatively expensive.

The concept of launching American Apparel stores in China itself is interesting. Since China is the world’s low-cost producer of clothing, it means that they’re not looking to compete on price. American Apparel seems to be relying on their alternative style and image, however, I’m not sure that these two factors have the same relevance that they would say in Europe or even elsewhere in Asia (for example in the mature Japanese market.) ‘Alternative’ may not be a strong selling point in an emerging market.

On the outside of King Glory Plaza there’s a billboard where American Apparel advertises alongside older brands such as Trussardi. It will be interesting to see how they market their clothing in China.

shenzhen king glory plaza

After checking out the store, (which seems practically bursting with merchandise,) I decided to explore the neighborhood a little.

Walking half a block towards Lo Wu I spotted another, perhaps, less stylish American favorite – WalMart!

walmart shenzhen

Too bad I was already shopped-out for the day.

The better way of getting to American Apparel!

Instead of going through Lok Ma Chau, cross the border at Low Wu and walk a few blocks to the Shenzhen subway (it’s near the Lo Wu Shangri La Hotel.) From there, take the train one stop to Guo Mao, and use exit A to enter King Glory Plaza. Or, spare yourself the walk and simply jump in a taxi for a short, inexpensive ride to the shopping mall.

*Thanks for the tip Alex!

American Apparel Shenzhen store
B1, 129-130, King Glory Plaza
2028 South Renmin Road
Shenzhen, China


  • I don’t know whether American Apparel can succeed in the market in China or not. Where I live in Europe, there are also some American Apparel shops. But I find the clothing very bland and simple looking, simply not my taste, although I got basic of course. Usually I go for the more local stores for these shirts.

    If these models from American Apparel are likely the same as what they sell in China, then I presume that most people will buy from the local store, since the designs are less or more the same? Usually for me, I only pay more for bland shirt, if the brand is that famous and big, or if the clothing fits good (and to be honest, I never heard from anyone that the shirts of AA are that comfortable or whatsoever)..

    Btw, I’m going to HKG soon, so I’m looking forwards to some articles about (alternative/unique) clothing shops or eating places. I really liked the one about the rather unknown beach in HK you posted.

  • Thanks for your comment Hanas! One reason that American Apparel originally stood out in the U.S. is that their shirts offered a more tapered fit. Typical American T-shirts used to be very baggy. American Apparel’s shirts fit better for some people.

    You make a good point about paying more for a famous brand name. Why pay more for something basic that you can’t differentiate from another maker? So, a white t-shirt is a white t-shirt. In China it can be produced cheaper than in the U.S., and without the shipping costs as well. BUT, you’d be surprised how many some people look at clothing labels and won’t purchase something made in their own country. Consumers can be very fickle.

  • Sure, no problem.

    Do the people in HK or China rather look at western brands or the more eastern ones? I can understand if people want to buy brand clothing, because usually they know what they are paying for. Good brand = nice quality, although I can’t speak for all, as for Diesel and Replay, I find those brands ridiculous expensive for their quality.

    In my opinion, well yeah, I usually go for the non-American brands if I go to HK. Usually those Japanse brands, or some of the Korean or Chinese one got some nice designs. As for someone living in Europe, they (=asian youngsters) target Asia brands and in Asia it’s the other way around?

  • HK and Mainland Chinese differ greatly in preference in brands. HK is usually the early adopters for the latest styles from Japan, Europe, and America. It takes a while for China to catch on. Even then, a lot of Chinese have no appreciation for design or quality and are more willing to take shortcuts (I.E. cop a bootleg for instant gratification).

    Anyways, great post. American Apparel is going to fail big time in China for all the previously stated reasons. AA would probably fail in HK too bc their product offerings are so limited and basic. It’s not like Uniqlo that has a wide range of styles. AA isn’t even doing that well in the U.S. They’ve expanded too quickly into all the crappy hipster locations and have bit off more they can chew. They just posted a $9MM first quarter loss.

    On the flipside to this story… I live in Los Angeles and I’ve actually seen GIORDANO stores around town… It has the same logo and font and everything, but they don’t sell the same clothes as HK. They actually sell douchebag LA Ed Hardy trash looking gear. I wonder what’s up with that.

  • One thing that American Apparel took off in the beginning was its sound labor practices. Sure, their business model was selling basics, but it was the fact that the tshirts were produced in sweatshop free environments. All the workers get paid decent hourly wages along with health benefits.

  • Hi Hanas,

    Yes, exactly, people are usually attracted to the opposite. It’s extremely difficult for local brands in Hong Kong to win against foreign brands – especially in the designer and luxury categories. This rule isn’t true throughout Asia though. In Japan for example, there’s lots of support for local brands. In general, because of “face”, I think Hong Kong people prefer famous foreign brands.

  • Hanas –

    Never heard someone say American Apparel is comfortable?!
    I live in their basic tees and flex-fleece hoodies. If you don’t mind oversize, their cardigans are also incredible comfortable.
    They are soft and delightful, my favourite company – also, most band merch is printed on AA.

  • Well, if you went with me you would have ended up in the wrong place! Just let me know when you want to go! 😉

  • GIORDANO is a good brand, well for the basic clothing wear as what AA seems to offer. Kirsten, AA isn’t that famous here, most of the people go for Zara, Sting, H&M clothing. Many people in HKG go for GIORDANO? I find the ankle socks of GIORDANO better than H&M, it seems it got more structure (quality) compared with those from H&M. If GIORDANO sells the same stuff as what they sell in HK, then they might do a better job…

    LJeezy: very informative, thanks.

    Admin: well, I know many chinese friends, more girls than guys who are into those “ming pai” like Guci, LV, Prada etc. It’s so generic, since prolly their stuff is from mainland (i.e. fake). They should support more of the local brands, so that those brands can expend to Europe keke…

  • i think it’s really wrong for people to continue to say that people from china have no taste and prefer a “cheap thrill” as quoting one of the commenters. And the chinese includes people from hong kong, i don’t know if you’ve noticed, it’s past 1997.
    china is a booming market with a lot of money to spend, naturally people would want to open their businesses there.
    And no american apparel won’t succeed, there’s no logo, and people want logos in china.
    yeah we’re tacky, so what.

  • and, at the end of a day, a China-made plain cotton t-shirt is a 100th of the cost of an AA US-made one!
    well done to hkhustle for sharing this adventure!

  • I think that American Apparel would do very well in Hong Kong actually. They don’t ONLY sell basic things and the basic stuff they have is really cool. I wish they had an AA in Hong Kong, I would be spending all my money there because the only good stores for teen in HK are H&M and Cotton On. Trust me, people are getting really bored of those stores. Cotton On hardly changes it’s style, the clothes have been the same in there for practically 6 months! AA should come to Hong Kong! I love their Deep V-Neck t-shirts, they’re SO comfortable. I also really like the sweatshirts, they’re plain but they come in basically every colour and they’re really bright and look really cool.

  • Hi Liz!

    Check out UNIQLO on the third floor of World Trade Center (WTC) in Causeway Bay. It recently opened and they have lots of clothes similar to American Apparel – but at cheaper prices. I was just there today and was surprised at how reasonable and wide the selections were. They have 11 stores in Hong Kong right now. There’s also another one in Lee Theatre shopping center also in Causeway Bay. While you’re at it, you can check out MUJI, another moderately priced Japanese chain that has good basics. (There’s also a MUJI shop in both of these buildings.) Good luck!

  • Thank you for this post Hong Kong Hustle! I love AA (though…not their prices) and like Liz are waiting for them to come to HK! I was thinking of visiting the AA shop in Shenzhen and possibly working there but from the picture…the shop seems to be empty! Not even a shop assistant in sight! I see a ‘We’re hiring’ poster on the corner of the shop, I guess they’re planning to expand?

  • Hey, is the AA store still there?
    I’m from New Zealand lol but am going to HK and shenzhen etc. Was planning on stocking up some tees.
    Anyone confirm that its still there? Cause Helen ^ says theres a future UNIQLD instead.

  • Yes, the American Apparel store in Shenzhen has been replaced by a Uniqlo, which you can also find in Hong Kong.

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