american apparel: continuously (controversial) clothier

american apparel, the LA-based clothing manufacturer that everyone either loves, or loves to hate, has been a hot topic on the internets of late. seems as if i have been stumbling across articles and other bits of media concerning the infamous company at least every couple of days. you ask: why would this be? well, it seems they though they are still battling various legal woes and facing other business challenges, they are simultaneously doing well (relatively speaking) and managing to remain somewhat financially buoyant in these trying retail times.


(images via american apparel)

generally, i’ve noted that folks seem have fairly strong opinions about american apparel. some favor the company for their downtown feel, modern cuts and blissfully logo-free mix-and-matchable knit basics, as well as the fact that they currently manufacture on US soil (they proudly and loudly market that aspect of their business). others revile the company in response to their anti-labor union stance, and hipster-flavored, super-sexually-charged advertising, or take issue with the alleged (mis)behavior(s) of the outfit’s CEO, dov charney.

in the interest of passing (interesting) things along (as i am wont to and enjoy doing), i thought i’d note and link to said posts/news pieces:

who’s your daddy? dov charney serves up paternalism with a creepy smile at american apparel HQ (from clamor magazine)

american apparel teams up with chictopia (via behind the seams: the ethical style blog): some select members of the personal style site are to serve as models for AA in the near future. jezebel, however, questions this current marketing move on the part of AA…

-this clip on current, no sweat solution, shows a slice of a documentary about american apparel and a competitor in the tee shirt manufacturing industry, no sweat. both aimed to operate a manufacturing firm that treated it’s workers fairly, but each had a different way of achieving that aim. one company found success, the other failed…if nothing else, the clip/film does a great job of vividly illustrating what a character dov is!

the complicated world of american apparel (wwd): subscription only, sadly. but suffice to say, it’s a good, multi-page read on the ins, outs of the company and why and how they do what they do, and it sheds light on the various, sundry and many legal woes of dov and his empire, and how those marketing schemes and cases have affected the company, for the worse, or the better. one could argue that not all of their recent and past moves are bad ones, surprisingly, as evidenced by their relative recent successes in this currently down, down, down market…

-see also: american apparel’s plans for recession success: more sex, please (via jezebel) & american apparel bares all (via the wall street journal)


i ask you, as i always like to do:
american apparel: loathe? love regardless? whatever, whichever, why?

does reading more, gaining more insight into the company or it’s CEO change your mind about them at all? or does said news bolster your beliefs about them as a company?

to take this line of questioning a step further: do the business practices or personal beliefs/actions of a company and/or its management or staff color how you feel about that company? if you disagreed with said practices, would you refuse to purchase their wares, even if you really liked what they had on offer? why, or why not?


  1. shay

    I’m kind of bored with their advertising style, honestly. Ok, so it’s porn now (yawn) what can they do to top themselves next? (yawn). I guess at least the sock girl has pubic hair, that’s unusual.

    They have the odd good piece of clothing but most of it is way overpriced for what it is and a good segment of it is hard to wear unless you are a stripper.

  2. Kate Sloan

    Everybody at my school is AA-crazy. I just don’t understand it. Being a thrifty girl, I am completely unwilling to pay $20 for a plain T-shirt, for example. Their clothing has become so ubiquitous among my peers (particularly certain distinctive pieces like the unisex flex fleece zip hoodie, figure skater dress, etc.) that the entire look is very unappealing to me as a self-proclaimed stylistic individual.

    It wasn’t until long after I formulated this opinion on AA that I actually found out about their unethical practices & frankly revolting advertising. Being a teenage girl myself, & especially given that I actually know a girl who has modeled for AA, the advertising is what really gets to me. The concept of “sex sells” has been taken far past the point of decency & it worries me for the future of corporate America.

    So for me, the bottom line is – though I may occasionally see an AA piece that I have a desire to own, I am deterred from buying it every time because a) I can get a perfectly fine alternative at any thrift store for an eighth the price, & b) as a teenage girl I have a personal moral quandary with the company’s practices.

  3. fitz

    i won’t buy clothes advertised with lady-only porn.
    their ads and flamboyant boss are a shame because the t-shirts are really nice. i like their USA stance. the stuff’s reasonably priced – yes, that’s what you pay for real labor standards. and i’m ok with it.
    but a girl’s got to take a stand. this girl does, anyway.
    too bad they don’t just let their things speak for themselves. they’re totally welcome to shoot porn; i don’t mean i want them stopped. first amendment, yo.
    but since they choose to sell their products in this way, i won’t give them any of my money.

  4. anja

    I’m not really sure how I feel about them. I am glad that the clothing is manufactured here, and I can appreciate some of the basic items in a range of colors. I have to agree with shay, their ads seem boring now. They’ve been doing the same sort of thing for so long now that it just isn’t interesting, provoking or funny anymore. I have a couple AA hoodies (thrifted, actually!) and will maybe buy some opaque tights there, but everything is still kind of expensive.

  5. Amy

    I LOATHE. Their adverts strike me as soft-core porn with barely legal models, which I find immoral and offensive (not to mention boring as Shay pointed about). Plus, I find their clothes mediocre to ugly, with most of the styles being very unflattering, even on the models. Nothing could entice me to purchase anything from American Apparel.

  6. fröken lila

    honestly, i really don’t understand all the hype about them. what’s so special about a normal t-shirt or a pair of leggings? ok, i’m a european so maybe that’s part of my not understanding, but still. how on earth could anyone be so crazy about everything new from a brand that basically makes normal t-shirts in a range of different colours when there are so many more exciting and interesting garments out there? ok, they might be nice for some basics tees, but those i can get at so many other places as well..

  7. Jennie

    The only thing I “buy” from them is t-shirts that have band’s icons on them or t-shirts, and that’s just because the design I want happens to be printed on an AA shirt. I’ve never bought anything from them directly, and I doubt I ever will. I am a bit torn because they are one of the most easily accessible (as in they have several retail stores in my town) American-made apparel companies, however their treatment and objectification of women disgusts me.

  8. sarah

    I dunno, maybe I’m too old for this phenomenon or something, but I never really got the whole AA fascination. It’s knitwear. A heckuva lot of knitwear! Personally, I like a little structure in my clothes – and heck, man, it gets cold in Seattle! I don’t care how many layers of leggings, leg warmers, t shirts, hoodies, knit short-shorts or WHATEVER you put on, it’s not gonna cut it. brr.

    I always appreciated that their clothes were made by folks in the US making a decent wage, but I find the ads rather pornographic, overblown, and – honestly – facile. America has such a strange relationship to sex. I chalk it up to the Puritannical foundations – we love/hate sex and either way, the titillation factor doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Which is sad, because really? Are we such sheep that you can just slap a nekkid female body on something and sell it? It makes me feel like we’re all rather immature.

    … speaking of, has anyone else noticed that Urban Outfitters seems to be channeling AA’s marketing vibe lately? sigh.

  9. Shen-Shen

    Unless Dov is a pedophile/rapist/murderer I wouldn’t hesitate to buy American Apparel. Although even if I personally did, would it make a difference? Millions of people would still buy it and keep his business afloat.

  10. peter royal

    i like their stuff (for guys). t-shirts, undershirts, underwear, sweatshirts. basics in nice colors.

    but, in their continuing controversy, their plan to open a store in sf’s mission district is under fire. hipsters are never satisfied!

  11. ambika

    I’ve never liked their advertising or Dov, even when they were a Cali-only regional store. I get paying more for things that are ethically made but not with a ceo like that. Sure, my lack of business won’t make a dent, but it’s about how I feel, not about bankrupting the company.

  12. lorimarsha

    Their apparel doesn’t interest me but I am fascinated by all of the media attention they get. I just saw a news special about them trying to export their goods into China and the trouble they’re having setting up retail stores there. So that kind of thing I find interesting..but not the clothes. Thanks for all the links.

  13. mollie

    I really liked aa in the late 90’s because they were one of the the first ones doing soft, flattering, girl-cut t-shirts. But now I’m getting bored with them too. Especially since the stores are cropping up in every nyc neighborhood, sometimes more than one in a hood. Also, their products and advertising are so directly derivative of the 80’s. Hardly any originality in copying shiny leggings, track shorts and tube socks. I wonder how long they can go on rehashing old styles.

    Reading the Clamor article and seeing the Current video makes me go, “bleh, yuck, gross.” $12/hr is hardly a living wage in Los Angeles.

  14. jennine

    hmm… good question… i used to like them a lot, and i love the fact the garments are made in the usa, but at the same time the sexualization of seemingly underage (none of the girls look like women… they may be ‘legal’ barely). it seems to be sad, like hitting young people were they are most vulnerable… what teenager feels comfortable about their sexuality?

    i don’t think the ads are sexy, i think they are blatantly manipulative… i don’t see empowered women these photos, i see girls with validation issues. it seems sad and desperate… two things i prefer not to buy into.

  15. Franca

    I’m on the fence as well. I actually quite like their stuff, its good quality and the ethical aspect and multi-coloured-ness appeal to me. I do think it’s slightly overpriced and I hate the strip-lit, nu rave style interiors of their shops. I find the advertising somewhat questionable as well, it never bothered me *that* much, because its not nearly as in your face here in the UK as it appears to be in the US, but then I read this profile in the Observer: and oh dear god does he sound like a horrible person!

  16. Persephone

    I don’t think I actually own one piece of AA clothing. Looking through their catalog, I can see why. I wouldn’t be caught dead shelling out more than $5 for a t-shirt! I suppose that I so used to seeing sex-filled advertisements that I am innoculated. (For example, the girl in the striped t-shirt, I just thought to myself “She needs some pants”) I wasn’t horrified or offended, and I suppose that is sad in a way.
    As far as business practices go, I will say this: I discovered that M&M/Mars funds needless experiments that study the effects of chocolate on different parts of the human body, and these tests are run on animals. I have not had an M&M in 5 months, and I LOVE them. So, I would say, yes, if a business has practices contrary to my beliefs or values (and this information is public knowledge), I will probably be less likely to buy from them/use their services.

  17. Frowner

    I’ll tell you, I look at AA stuff from time to time but never actually buy–the ads are creepy (not so much the billboard ones, but the ones on the web) and the aspirational-purchase vibe really puts me off. The whole subtext of their ads is “are you sexeeee enough to wear our clothes?”…and I’m sorry, clothes are clothes. I don’t have to prove anything to my tee-shirt. Also, I’d rather buy thrifted or genuinely small-producer stuff. And I know enough labor history to realize that paternalism, while a bit better than pure exploitation, doesn’t last very well. A “good” corporate overlord is a bit like a “good” emperor–things are hunky-dory until the barbarians are at the gates, or until the guy’s successor turns out to be lazy, greedy or incompetent.

  18. ana

    I find rather insidious AA’s parasitic approach to imprinting itself on street and indie fasion blogs to poach/buy creative credibility and publicity. The company ingratiates itself by showering bloggers with garment freebies (who doesn’t love a pressie) that are in all truth stylistically generic–note how the most crafty and talented stylists layer over them to near invisibility–and of course overpriced (and many say not very durable or well-made, fairly disposable in fact) when one actually buys them.

  19. Brooke Alexandra

    I was kind of nauseated by the Chictopians modelling for AA…AA ads always seem to have that pedophilic overtone, but Karla is legitimately a child (17, iirc)! Although perhaps that speaks more about the parenting than the company…

  20. lynn

    Uggg. I don’t like them. I’m all for US produced goods, and I’ll pay the higher price for them, but AA stuff is CRAP! i have more of their shirts than I care to count because all these independent designers insist on using them. Several of them are falling apart after only a few washes/wears. And I’m so so so over their women’s sizing. Common folks! yes, I’m a curvy girl, but no way, no how am I an XL. And further, it eliminates a lot of *slightly* bigger girls from fitting into their clothing.

    I won’t even go into the advertizing. I think it’s super weird that a CLOTHING SITE is not safe to cruise at work.

  21. Tess

    I’m with lorimarsha. I find the controversy interesting, and their clothing pretty boring. Personally, I don’t buy new clothing so my opinion of the ceo/company as a whole doesn’t impact my choice one way or the other. I’m not buying it anyway.

    I’m very sex positive and feel that our culture is far too prudish, however the ads are fairly pornographic (those green shorts that nikkole! posted. Can’t we just ASSUME what the crotch seem looks like?)and I doubt the recently-18 yo’s are getting paid was well as a porn star. Although, it does seem that porn stars are modeling for AA ads. Is the economy that bad??? I’m being a bit silly but there are a lot of different lenses to look at this from. And a lot of folks have done that as we can see from the many articles and kudos and recriminations that Tricia has linked to, as well as the articles that those link to an so forth.

    Back to the controversy aspect of this whole thing, I often wonder why AA’s antics (good or bad) are so heavily publicized while it seems like few other corporations or fashion labels are scrutinized in any way. I’m sure if we applied this same light to most other popular places that people get clothing from I’m sure we’d uncover a lot of unpleasant truths. A t-shirt from target might be comparable in style and quality to one from AA, and it’s probably less expensive! Though it was probably made overseas by workers who are paid very little and work in questionable factory conditions. There seems to be an AA (or 80) in every hip neighborhood here in Boston (200 give or take worldwide) but there seems to be a very large Target stores in most cities (1683 total stores). As far as homogenization of fashion and flooding the markets with inexpensive disposable goods, Target is probably a much bigger offender, though I’m sure this corporation is much less polarizing than AA, and especially it’s CEO. I don’t think I’ve ever read about Target’s CEO… AA carries and is one slightly controversial brand, while Target carries many brands and labels many of whom test on animals (MM’s? why? plus Johnson and Johnson, Clairol, and many other seemingly innocuous household brands).

    I don’t really want to start a comment war about the ethics of corporations and who’s better, I just wanted to provide some food for thought about how and what we consume in general. If you really want to you could convince yourself never to buy anything again, or leave the house. I’m a fan of moderation and information, most folks buys lots of things and don’t know where they came from and how they are made. I’m not proposing we all stop buying new things ever, just more information and discussion so consumers can make educated decisions and maybe, gasp, buy less!

    As far as my personal decisions go, I’m probably not going to agree ethically on all levels with everyone in a company. I do look at actions, though, and base my decisions on that ( I avoid companies who animal test for example) but still advocate for LESS LESS LESS!

  22. ruby

    I’m a 2nd hand clothing store owner, and when AA was first on the scene about 10 years ago (before they had any stores) I liked them for the made in USA aspect. We bought a line of wholesale ts from them to carry as basics, but they don’t fit real women! You have to be a teenager or very tiny to fit into their medium, and the XL fit me (I’m usually an 8) so I stopped carrying the line. Now that they have gone in the direction of “You have to be HAWT to wear our clothing” I just think it’s another form of exploitation. What’s very sad is that it’s working – teenage girls have come to form their self-image through the lens of skeevy dudes like Charney, and are buying it like crazy. It’s sad.

  23. lindsey clare

    i think it’s a shame that the CEO acts like such a jerk. i used to be a fan of AA (i have a couple of their tshirts) and i liked the fact that they were sweatshop-free. but i’ve recently reconsidered – mainly because of that Clamor article about their anti-unionism, as well as Charney’s pretty disgusting view of women.

  24. Maven

    I don’t own any AA clothes (oops, except this Obama shirt I got for donating to MoveOn), and I doubt I ever will. I agree with much that has been said here about the skeezy AA overlord, the hyper-sexualized images used to sell the stuff (though to be fair, pretty much every product out there does the same thing even when the product has nothing to do with sex), and the unimpressive quality of the clothes. I think they’re pretty much faux-revolutionary. The company is also heavily leveraged, so it’s hard to see why they’re garnering praise for their sales. They’re over $111 million in debt.

    Also, this is totally OT but seems like the kind of thing you’d be interested in, if you haven’t seen it already–it’s instructions on how to build your own dress form:

  25. Natalie

    If they made plus sized clothing, and changed their attitude towards bodies, I might consider wearing their clothes.

    Fortunately, these two things probably won’t change.

  26. Alanna

    if anything i am impressed by how they have sensationalized the “basics”, which I do think are cut pretty well for their market…
    personally I didn’t even notice them until the hyper stylized sexed-up ads showed up everywhere, so I think that is working for them in terms of sales.
    but nothing says fast fashion like the shoddy quality of mass production, and I am not so into that.

  27. katie

    EEW! Micro poly short shorts. GROSS! I wouldn’t put those anywhere near my kitty kat.
    Loathe the kiddy porn advertising.
    Loathe the kiddy sizing. Loathe most of their styles.
    I like the non-sweat shop philosophy.
    I am willing to pay extra for that.
    That said, I don’t buy anything from AA directly.
    I own a couple of concert shirts and a hand screen print from an Etsy seller.

  28. Jocelyne

    I have been seeing a lot of flyers and posters trying to stop the store they are putting in, or trying to put in on Valencia. The location is alreay listed on thier (AA’s) website. Most people in the Valencia corridor want to keep it small business oriented. It is remarkably stayed that way so far. I wonder what will happen.