Fashion's Dirty Laundry: American Apparel
The clothes maker keeps finding new ways to offend people.
American Apparel (APP) has been lauded for its sweatshop free, “Made In Downtown L.A.” production, a soup-to-nuts system where everything from knitting and dyeing to sewing and marketing is made and handled locally. According to its website, the average pay rate for its experienced sewers is $12 an hour, and that's for a full-time job including benefits and perks, a rarity in garment production.
But this is all for naught if your workers are undocumented. Last September, American Apparel let go of 1,500 workers after a visit from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency found problems with the employees' immigration status. The company’s “Legalize L.A.” campaign has been the major outlet for founder Dov Charney’s push for immigration reform.
The Bad: Lawsuits Abound (and Woody Allen is not a rabbi)
American Apparel’s marketing materials are undeniably sexual (they appear to mimic cheap, amateur pornography), whether it be magazine ads, large street corner billboards, or in one of their very brightly lit 275 stores.
This aspect of the company has garnered more attention than its pro-worker, environmentally-aware products. Complaints came from residents in New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood in 2007 over a billboard ad depicting a bent over young women wearing only a pair of tights.
Curbed LA reported similar distaste from residents of L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood for another billboard of a topless female.
In September, the UK Advertising Standards Authority requested the company stop using an ad of a young girl in a hooded sweatshirt in various stages of unzip.
While the shots of the men’s line have a certain nerdy quality -- call it hipster-nebbish -- the young male models are actually clothed. The female models are often partially clothed. And in both cases, they’re not professional models. They’re often employees. And here is where the problems begin.
Photo courtesy of American Apparel
Nelson claimed that Charney walked around in his underwear, and used abusive and sexual language to female employees. Yang claimed she was wrongfully terminated, and that Charney was misrepresenting sales figures just before the company went public. (American Apparel filed a countersuit, alleging extortion, in December 2008).
Floyd claimed that she was yelled at and ordered to perform sexual acts, as reported in Mother Jones magazine.
Photo courtesy of American Apparel
Another much-remarked-upon recent legal wrangle ended after film director Woody Allen settled with American Apparel for $5 million in May 2009 after a large outdoor billboard depicting Allen dressed as a rabbi appeared in New York and Los Angeles. The shot was actually a still from Allen’s movie Annie Hall used without permission. Charney has written on American Apparel’s website that he considered this a matter of free speech, while Allen has consistently refused to endorse products.
Montreal-born Charney began American Apparel in 1997. The company went public at the end of 2007 after a merger with Endeavor Acquisition Corp. Second-quarter reports state sales of $136 million.
The Ugly: Reminding the World of the Fashion Disaster That Was the 1980s
Off-the-shoulder T-shirts. Stirrup pants. Spandex dresses. Acid wash. Need we say more?
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