Why I don’t shop at American Apparel

9 Sep

In conversations with friends, sometimes the topic of American Apparel comes up. While I find a lot of their clothes to be rather ridiculous, they do still have some basic things that I would like to buy. But I don’t. If you know me personally, then you may have already heard my rant, but if you haven’t, then allow me to state it again. 🙂

A few years ago, I visited American Apparel for the first time. I went to the Santa Monica store and while I found the staff to be unhelpful and borderline rude, I found a skirt that I really liked, so I bought it, and life went on its merry way. I knew that American Apparel made their products in LA and was supposed to be sweatshop-free, so I was happy with my purchase.

I also knew that the American Apparel website featured some rather close-up crotch shots of their underwear models, and that their marketing was highly sexual. But at that time, I wasn’t aware of just how sexual it was. In fact, my friend and I used to email each other pictures we found off the AA web site, because we thought it was funny.

And then maybe a year later I learned there was more to it than silly photos. I was talking to a friend before church when she recognized an old friend walking through the door, so they chatted for a little while. When my friend returned, she explained to me that her old friend had worked for American Apparel and had worked with Dov Charney, the founder of AA. She had also filed a lawsuit for sexual harassment. My friend went on to tell me about some of the practices of Charney and that her friend wasn’t the only one who had experienced it.

After that, I did some research. According to Wikipedia, nothing has come out of the lawsuits, but that’s not to say that there isn’t sketchy stuff going on.

This article is from 2005, but it goes into a lot more detail about Charney’s relationships with employees.

Also, check out this article from 2006.

Anyway, the reason I am writing about this is because I recently came across this: The 50 Sluttiest American Apparel Ads of All Time

Please note that the above link is NSFW (not safe for work) – Don’t open it at the office. While there isn’t full-on nudity, it’s pretty dang close.

I’m not trying to be Gertrude McPrude. We all know sex sells and it’s impossible to get away from. But, combined with knowledge about Charney, it just seems like too much. It’s one step away from porn, and it makes me really sad that this marketing has been so successful. I know that the objectification of women isn’t going to end if AA shuts down, but I can’t support a company that engages in this kind of marketing and where that sleaziness is encouraged within the company. I wish more people would join me in not supporting them.

The problem is that as I’m writing this, I also know that I’m a total hyprocrite. I care about the oversexed company yet still buy clothes from stores that most likely use sweatshop and/or slave labor. I really do struggle with it, but it’s hard to find affordable clothing that wasn’t produced in the cheapest manner. I guess what I’ve decided for now is that I’m going to focus on what’s in front of me. I see American Apparel stores all the time, I see people wearing their clothes, and I know that I disapprove of how they run their business. While I certainly approve of their American-made fair wages operation, I’m not going to buy their stuff solely because of that.

In making that decision, I’ve essentially put sex over fair work conditions. I’m not happy about that, but at this point, it’s a start, and quite frankly, it’s an easy start. I intend to explore and learn more about buying non-sweatshop labor clothing, but in the meantime, I will at least not support AA.

If you’re knowledgable about which companies are good or bad when it comes to labor, I’d love to hear more.

I’d like to end on a positive note though. There is an alternative to American Apparel: Alternative Apparel. While I don’t think they manufacture in the U.S., they do have social responsibility guidelines for vendors. And their photos don’t look like Playboy. That’s at least something.


4 Responses to “Why I don’t shop at American Apparel”

  1. erniebufflo September 9, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    This is NOT a comment criticizing your decision, and I will note the only things I own that are made by American Apparel are Threadless T-Shirts (which, in cute cheap news are $9 all day today!).

    One, I’m not so sure American Apparel’s advertising is so much worse than other companies. Sure, it’s WAY pornier. But the women IN the ads are actual employees for the company, for the most part. And they’re not airbrushed into some unattainable standard of beauty. Those are actual women who actually look like that, and despite the porniness, I somehow find that preferable to airbrushed supermodels who make up a different kind of porn, the kind that suggests than anyone, ever, could look like that. The kind that creates a completely unattainable standard of beauty.

    Two, I’m 100% positive that workers in third world countries sewing things for the Gap are treated far worse than any (even the sexually harrassed ones) employees at AA. It’s not just the low wages, it’s hazardous conditions and abuse from supervisors.

    So, sitting here in my J.C. Penney skirt and Target flats and Gap tee, I’m practically assured that I’m wearing the products of near-slave labor. And I KNOW I should do better than that. Perhaps better than that would be buying from a company that pays fair wages to people who have to work in safe conditions and who are free to leave their jobs without worrying that their families will literally starve.

    I just hate that my alternatives are generally way out of my price range or proponents of pervy advertising and worse like Dov Charney (who has gotten a LOT of coverage on Jezebel and Gawker for his assholery).

  2. Terri September 10, 2009 at 6:50 pm #

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    It totally sucks that we are limited in choices. It’s like you either pay out the rear for fair clothes or you buy cheaper clothes and continue the cycle of slave labor.

    As far as the photos, one of the things that bothers me about it is that according to my friend, Dov Charney photographed some of those employees in his office. I doubt he still does that as much since business has expanded. But just the thought of him behind a camera taking porny shots of his employees just creeps me out a lot. Yes, those employees had a choice and maybe some of them really like it, but … eww.

    But you do have a point about it being less airbrushed.

  3. Rebecca September 29, 2009 at 6:09 pm #

    Speaking of Alternative Apparel-there is a great sale on it at Smart Bargains (one of my favorite online discount stores). 60% off today only, but they generally have good deals.


  1. Alternative Apparel sale « Cute Cheap Stuff! - September 29, 2009

    […] Apparel was mentioned in a previous post.) Tags: Alternative […]

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