American Apparel: A Moral Dilemma

Years ago, all I knew about American Apparel was that it made nice blank T-shirts, and I had no qualms about it, I liked the product, and that was that. As AA went from being a wholesaler to a retailer, complete with controversial ad campaigns and accusations of sexual harassment, it became hard to separate the product from the scandals. So, what do you do when you like the products a store makes, but disagree with its marketing and think the CEO is a sexist jerk?

Dov Charney sounds like an über sleaze, he has an obsession with 70s pornography, likes doing inappropriate things in the presence of both his employees and interviewers, and is generally a creep who is too deluded to realize his actions are both offensive and unacceptable. If you want to know more specifics about Charney’s escapades, simply go to Jezebel, or any sites in the Gawker universe, and type in his name. There has also been lots of speculation on the state of American Apparel’s finances. They’ve been late on reporting their quarterly reports, stocks are plunging, and sales are down, Charney of course, denies most of this.

I can’t help but think that the old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” isn’t exactly true when your horrible personality and numerous scandals keep a public from wanting to give you money, even when they like your products. On top of all that, I also have the issue that when I walk into American Apparel I instantly feel old, lame, and frumpy—and I’m 26. A store that purposely employs workers who look hip, (I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes at the sales clerk in her over-sized eyeglasses, hugely baggy sweater and jeggings, it’s kinda old at this point, no?) rather than workers who offer assistance, pay attention to customers, and make you feel welcome, shouldn’t really be surprised when nobody wants to shop there.

The problem is, I like American Apparel—not Dov Charney, but some of the products his company makes. I mean, I’ not buying a $50 lace bodysuit anytime in the near future, but I could literally live in the tri-blend t-shirts and pullovers. I have a bunch of sundresses and skirts that are versatile and devoid of the ruffles and beads so often found on everything at stores like Antropologie. There is something nice about the simplicity of many AA products. Unfortunately Dov and his company have further alienated people by refusing to offer any of its women’s products in plus sizes despite offering up to 3XL in unisex and men’s styles. It’s truly upsetting to see a company that has some great products shoot itself in the foot over and over again. I haven’t even mentioned the nail polish, which comes in some really nice colors and costs only $6.

If you’re thinking, “is there anything redeeming about this company aside from soft t-shirts and nail polish?” check out this quote from the AA wikipedia page:

“American Apparel bases its manufacturing in an 800,000-square-foot factory in downtown Los Angeles, California. The company also owns and operates its own fabric dye house, garment dye house, and knitting facility, all based in Los Angeles. American Apparel has decided not to outsource its labor, paying factory workers an average of over $12 dollars an hour. Garment workers for similar American companies in China earn approximately 40 cents per hour. It claims to have the ‘highest earning apparel workers in the world’.”

I’m a huge advocate for promoting manufacturing in the US, I’m repeatedly appalled by how few things are produced in this country, and how much of what we buy is made by grossly underpaid and often abused factory workers in foreign countries. So, here is where the dilemma comes in, give your money to a sexist, skeezoid who gives his workers a fair wage and produces American made products —or give it to a company that has no problem outsourcing its labor and charging you ten times the manufacturing cost (and probably has some questionable CEOs too, only with better publicists and more common sense)? As someone who has lost work due to outsourcing, feels deeply passionate about resurrecting the production of American made goods, and also considers herself an avid feminist, it’s quite the conundrum.

Every time I go into American Apparel I get pissed off, mostly because I like a lot of their products and believe in there manufacturing policies, so I get real ticked when I go in there and feel like an uncool alien intruding on the conversations of the staff, and bombarded by trashy advertisements. But then, I go home and I put on my tri-blend pullover or my black pencil skirt and I’m both comfortable and proud to wear something made in the USA, so what’s a girl to do?

I know that American Apparel is a bit of a hot button issue, perhaps it’s your favorite place, or maybe you wouldn’t step foot in a store with those porn-inspired ads, either way, I’d love to hear what the rest of you think, and if anyone else has the same moral dilemma about shopping at AA.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “American Apparel: A Moral Dilemma

  1. mkz201

    Dov Charney is a skeezoid for sure, but when it comes down to it, I would rather give my money to a skeezoid subject to American sexual harassment laws that pays his factory workers a living wage than to some third world sleaze who is essentially enslaving the local populace and subject only to the meager justice of whatever banana republic he is incorporated in.

    And really, all the outrage over on Jezebel sort of mystifies me here. Yes, he should not sexually harass his employees but those employees a) had fair warning about the working conditions to the extent they are legal and b) have a form of legal redress if anyone crosses the line. And the outrage about hiring only good looking sales people is sort of insane considering that almost all stores do this. Exhibit A: Abercrombie and Fitch. Exhibit B: EVERY HIGH FASHION BOUTIQUE. Seriously – who do they think works at the Balenciaga store? Or the Chloe store? Not some ragamuffin off the street wearing mom jeans, I assure you. Though that does sort of describe the average American Apparel employee nowadays…

  2. haren

    I totally agree. We have no idea what slave conditions foreign countries subject their workers too. It seems India, China and a whole host of other countries use children who are more or less enslaved, use toxic chemicals with no concern for workers at all. Yup Dov sounds sleazy but there are legal sanctions for some of his behaviors here.

  3. alison

    I agree with mkz and haren…who knows what is going at other factories….and i really dont know if I could find a replacement for the AA deep v neck….I love those things…after awhile they get these tiny holes that seem to add to the appeal…now a lace body suit? No thank you. I have to say I hate the experience of shopping in AA so much that I order online when I need to replace a tee, I hate their staff in their stupid legwarmers and hats…..

  4. Also, American Apparel sometimes uses models who look a little bit more like real people. I saw one poster that really caught my attention. The model looked like someone who might be my friend. I was kinda impressed.

    But yeah, I agree. I feel ancient whenever I walk into one of the stores. So I don’t.

  5. Mary

    If I were rich I could buy shares (or just buy the whole company) and then make them change their ways. But on the whole, I’d rather have that jerk here where I can keep an eye on him and his company.

    More sizes are good business. He may realize that he is missing a profit market. If he doesn’t want plus-size ladies in his store, he could open a sister-store is the same merch in plus sizes.

  6. Carmela

    I have never been in an AA store or heard of Dov Charney, but I am on my own personal boycott of anything made in China, so it’s good to know that he at least makes clothing here and pays his people a halfway decent wage. There are probably lots of CEOs of other apparel companies who are just as sleazy and are outsourcing their manufacturing. I like the idea of buying their products online if you don’t want to deal with their salespeople. Now your blog made me want to go into a store and see what they sell 🙂

  7. monique r.

    I enjoyed this article but why is a company’s advertising and CEO getting in the way of your opinion- you dont have to consume the advertising or the CEO– you consume the product? I think if the company didn’t produce clothing up to 3XL, you’d have more of a case for these ideas…but the advertising is something A. people are paid to do the same way rodarte designed by two basically BMI-obese sisters who hire and promote deathly skinny models- it’s part of the game (and the game sux?) b. this type of thing has been proven to sell/attract more attention- think A&F in the 90s– those nudie seasonal books they would put out– the problem is just wayyy more inherent and you are taking it for the facevalue of what gawker-type media is selling to YOU.
    I don’t think there is a conundrum here for the confident feminist…if you feel dumpy walking into the store- realize that these people are asked to wear the store’s clothes (same with american eagle and every other store in the mall)–and let’s be real, only american apparel is going to look foolish regardless…annnddd they are still human beings and if their intention isn’t wholesome, it’s probably still innocent.

    I think you should just jump on my boat here where controversy doesn’t matter but getting what you pay for DOES.

    • Justine

      Haha—maybe I’ve been reading too much Jezebel recently! That’s partially why I wrote this post, because I don’t really feel like AA is as evil as the Gawker universe makes it out to be, and I do like their products—and I think they’ve taken some pretty great leaps manufacturing-wise that they don’t seem to get any credit for. The plus size thing is an issue across the fashion industry, it’s just that since American Apparel does make clothes in 3XL only for men (or unisex) it sends the message that they don’t want to sell their clothes to plus size *women*, only men (maybe because being a plus size woman is gross to them?)—that’s where my angry feminist kicks in, men can be obese, but if a woman is over a size 8 she’s a fatty. All in all I do want to jump on board with you though, because I don’t really get why the controversy is so thick, it always seems like there must be something else going on, so I’ll continue buying my soft t-shirts and colorful nail polish because I like them.

      All that being said, I do believe that if a corporation is engaging in truly disgusting practices of any kind it should make you at least think about purchasing the product. Take a look at the whole blood diamond thing, those gems are mighty sparkly and you might love the way it looks on your finger, but the money you used to purchase it might be funding something that would keep you from being able to sleep at night, and that’s enough to give me pause.

      And thanks so much for your thoughtful comment Monique—I love starting these conversations and hearing what people have to say!

  8. I worked there for 2 months due to being unemployed maybe like 4 years ago…and I was feeling kinda in the dumps and wanted a discount somewhere. It really is an overall skanky company from what I’ve witnessed.. Good discount though.

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