First published in The Huffington Post 30th April 2013
Shiny disco pants are everywhere and I need block-colour basics as much as the next girl, but cracks are beginning to show in American Apparel’s conscious-consumer chic.1. It’s stupidly expensive. The prices are not exactly student-friendly and I’m not sure I would be willing to pay £46 for a plain polyester sweatshirt (suspiciously similar to the type I was forced to wear at school) even if I had a real income.2. The ‘fitness’ clothes are completely impractical. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried the gym in a mesh bodysuit with a thong bottom, but I wouldn’t advise it. Also, all bodysuits on the website are modelled without bras underneath, including those made from sheer fabric… not exactly gym (or in-public) friendly.
3. Despite slogan t-shirts calling for the legalisation of gay marriage and the ‘sweatshop free’ label, there is something less than savoury about American Apparel. Founder and CEO Dov Charney has been involved in a string of sexual harassment lawsuits and in 2004, Jane magazine’s Claudine Ko reported that during an interview with Charney he received oral sex from a female employee and masturbated repeatedly.
4. I want to look at tights, not some girl’s arse. Not only do a significant proportion of the female models featured on American Apparel’s UK site look decidedly underage, but the sexualised poses and volume of flesh on show are wholly unnecessary when one considers both the context of the images and the product they are promoting. The ‘Sheer Luxe Cut-Out Pantyhose’ for £19 leave the entirety of the wearer’s bum exposed, and to put issues of design and comfort aside (because they look REALLY uncomfortable), I found myself asking why the accompanying slideshow of images needed to show the model bending over suggestively, with entirely bare breasts. There is no age restriction on accessing the site and interestingly enough, none of the male models are bending over, sucking their fingers or showing their bare bum cheeks.
5. You’re only hired if you look right. Charney’s comments regarding only employing the ‘right type of black girl’ are a particularly noxious example. Of course, this is not unique to American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch are a high profile example of a clothing retailer with a gross hiring practice, paying out $40 million in 2004 for refusing to give non-white applicants positions in-store. However, this gives lie to the progressive politics and the declaration that the company are ‘setting a new standard that others will follow’, found on their website.
6. Dov Charney doesn’t want his employees talking. In 2010 Gawker ran an article on American Apparel’s ‘At Will Employment Confidentiality Agreement’ which introduces a penalty of $1,000,000 for any American Apparel worker who speaks to the media or disparages Charney in public or online. The agreement also stipulates that when out and about, employees should not discuss the company at a volume that ‘reasonably could be overheard by a third party’. So basically, you have to whisper. Such measures certainly suggest that the company has something to hide.
Despite the seething mass of corporate paranoia, rampant misogyny and disturbing sexualisation of young models displayed by American Apparel, I still believe that we can have clothing companies that pay their workers a fair wage without negating this achievement through other types of unethical behaviour. But until Charney makes substantial changes to the way his clothing empire operates, the lurex shine has definitely worn off American Apparel.