Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Appalled by American Apparel

I'm so conflicted on the topic of American Apparel.

They've got a lot of things going for them. First, you've got hundreds of different styles of cotton basics (t-shirts to dresses to tights to lingerie and more) in a multitude of colors for reasonable ($15-$45) prices. They're more fashion-forward and body-conscious than what you could get at the Gap, and with an online store and physical stores in most major U.S. cities, it's easy to stock up.

Unlike most of the discount retailers, they've got an impressive track record of progressive environmental and labor policies, producing their clothing in sweatshop-free U.S. factories, paying their employees fair wage and offering them great benefits. They brag about recycling fabric scraps and using organic cotton, and in general seem to be more committed to these issues than nearly all mainstream retailers

And yet....

They totally creep me out with the weird, barely legal horny hipster vibe that's inescapable on the website and in the stores. The company's signature look are amateur-looking washed-out photographs of non-professional models in suggestive poses and outfits. These images are plastered on the walls of the store, fill pages of magazine ads and are used on the website next to product descriptions.


The voyeuristic quality to these ads, along with the feeling that you're looking at a real girl (a young one at that) exposing herself to the camera and not a jaded professional just feels dirty to me. They look more like they were taken by her boyfriend after a night of drinking than they were intended to run in national magazines or fill billboards. It's obvious why people are attracted to this approach, but personally, feeling creeped out doesn't make me want to buy more clothes.

The ads are also part of this general vibe of hipster superiority that makes browsing through their stores nearly insufferable. It feels like a giant contest to out-cool everyone, and if you're not interested in participating, you don't belong there.

To add to the creepiness factor, American Apparel's CEO Dov Charney proudly admits to having sexual relationships with his employees and has been sued multiple times for sexual harassment. Longtime Jane readers will remember a profile of him in a 2004 issue in which he masturbated in front of a Jane reporter. Charney takes many of the advertisement photos himself, finding models on the street instead of going through casting calls. In a Business Week article on the company, former employees call American Apparel, "a company built on lechery," with senior managers pursuing sex with junior management, and awarding those who consented with promotions and gifts.

For these reasons, I haven't set foot in an American Apparel store in years. Lately though, it feels like everywhere I go there's an American Apparel window assaulting my eyes with mannequins wearing those hideous gold and sparkly leggings.

I don't know what's more offensive, having to look at those leggings every day or the soft-core advertisements plastering the city.

How do you feel about American Apparel?

27 comments:

Jen said...

They're using sex to sell crap, which is the oldest trick in the book. I don't buy them.

Rebekah said...

I don't buy from them, either, it's all too creepy for me. We vote with our dollars, right?

Joanna said...

Wow, up until this article, I had a fairly positive view of american apparel.

Queen Michelle said...

The ads also creep me right out. I do feel as if I'm looking at soft porn. It's so very very wrong on so many levels.

Laura V said...

I kind of hate that I spend my life trying to figure out if I'm going to buy a t-shirt and support the exploitation of children and/or women overseas, or if I'm going to buy a t-shirt and support the exploitation of women in my own country.

Mostly I just don't buy t-shirts without first covering up my ears and yelling LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU.

Kittenplan said...

Ditto what jen and rebekah said. The ads are truly creepy and skeevy, and Dov is a veritable douchebag. There's no way I'd ever contribute to this man's salary.

Elizabeth said...

Turning off the part of my brain that is always way creeped out by American Apparel, the internal conflict in their advertising is pretty interesting, isn't it?

I mean, usually clothing ads sell a fantasy/attitude about their clothes. AA has that 'hipper than thou' attitude, but... just looking at the ads makes me feel dirty and greasy and a little hung-over; not the kind of feeling I want to associate with my clothes. I know sex sells, and their clothes are comfortable, fit well, and are made responsibly... but seriously: eeew.

Anonymous said...

What creeps me out is the bad quality of the stuff. Thin cotton, no finishing, bad quality. This stuff doesn't look like it will last. And the use a dress form that doesn't work with my body type. They make their stuff for broad shouldered, thin hipped people, not for women with waists and hips.
Haven't seen too much ads. In Europe they are pretty low key.

Anna Rose said...

Don't you have an Advertising Standards Authority in the states? Here in New Zealand we'd have old ladies and feminists complaining en masse.

The Home Spa Goddess said...

Wow, I didn't know the whole story. I agree about the ads,here in Chicago they are always the last page of the Reader (weekly free paper). They remind me of those home maid porn Calvin Klein ads from a few years back.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I don't know; I'm a fan - the clothes fit me, and I do really like their designs. Which is pretty rare lately.

I also think it's worth pointing out that so many other big brands do this - but their ads are much more airbrushed; for some reason, people seem to be more comfortable with that. Sure, we complain about how much Faith Hill was photoshopped in Redbook, but we prefer that fantasy image.

Finally, if I didn't buy from any retailers who used sex to sell crap, I probably wouldn't have clothes at all. ;) I am not keen on supporting some crazy CEO, but I still appreciate AA's business policies.

Anonymous said...

I really love AA -- their clothes look, fit, and feel great. I just noticed that my entire outfit today is from AA... oh my. I have to say, the less savory aspects you've pointed out don't really bother me. As another poster mentioned, I think we would be hard pressed to find a clothing company that doesn't use sex to sell its products. Furthermore, I would hardly call Terry Richardson an "amateur" photographer (although the models certainly are).

Dov Charney may be more vocal about his personality problems than other people are, but I think that's a problem of publicity/marketing strategy, not the company (I'm sure it's easy to find equally objectionable higher ups in lots of companies). If the situation is really so dire, then sexual harassment suits will be brought and eventually something will change. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the clothes.

Anonymous said...

I was an early customer of AA, I used to buy them mail order before they opened the stores. I've stopped buying them because a)I noticed that most of the stuff fell apart in about 6 months and b) can't take my four year old in there, he's old enough to notice the decor wonder what those ladies are doing.

Emma said...

Wow. In the UK, I've never really come across American Apparel, but these ads are verging on pornography! I'm actually a little stunned!

tmp00 said...

I've shopped AA before- for my godchild. I'm not the demographic for the place: I was around when those styles were hip the first time.

I was always a bit disturbed by the ads for the place, and now I know why... Major Ick.

Kelly said...

Just came across this post today. I actually looked at their website this morning at work to see if I could find a tank but was mortified to see a girl modeling a tank-thong leotard thing with her bare ass facing out. I had to see this at work! It's gross and made me less inclined to actually look at any of their other products. The owner sounds like a lecherous douchebag. I haven't purchased anything from them and won't in the future.

Anonymous said...

the first ad you posted (Meet Lauren Phoenix)... she is an actual porn star.

Kristin said...

Not only have I been unimpressed by the quality of clothing available at AmApp stores, I'm totally opposed to their advertising. It's smutty and certainly doesn't send the right messages. Yeah, we're AmApp and we make our stuff in America using environmentally good processes, but we're still going to deceive you with ads depicting women in sexually suggestive roles. That should bring the middle school girls right in! C'mon. Just become Abercrombie and get it over with.

sighofrelief said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sighofrelief said...

a little late on this post, but AA in fact may not be the most worker friendly factory out there. a guardian article around jan 2006 enlightened me to the fact that AA workers (overwhelmingly latino) tried to unionize and were threatened with their jobs. furthermore, the shoddy quality of their garments is due to the fact that instead of being paid by the hour, the workers are paid by the garment. link to the article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1682819,00.html

Rapunzel said...

I had no idea what American Apparel was when I stepped into one in Boston with a friend of mine. We were both a little shocked when we were greeted by a female sales associate wearing a tank top and gold bikini bottoms. Not only was it a little different than what i'm used to seeing on sales associates but it was the middle of winter. Downstairs there was a male sales associate in briefs, a hoodie, and calf length socks.

Needless to say, I've never bought anything from AA and am now even less likely to do so in the future.

Anonymous said...

Listen, if advertising really appalls you, just overt your or take a different route home. The bottom line is, American Apparel is doing things right, but they aren't prefect. And yes, they attempted to Unionize, but there are two sides to every story. The group that tried to get AA on board to unionize is called UNITE, and they were accused of illegally obtaining names of employees, not mention not the fact that Unite would have made alot of money from the unionization fees they require. Since the fiasco, American apparel has claimed it will remain neutral should the employees decide to Unionize in the near future. And were you aware that Starbucks doesn't have a union, think about that the next time you run into one of their 500 stores on your bus/car ride/walk home. But I understand that unions give the employees a voice, and it’s important that they be heard. But one must look at everything American Apparel have gotten right: enormous solar panel on the factory’s roof cutting electricity costs by 20-40%, incorporating organic materials into existing synthetic and artificial cottons ( soon to be 50-80% in the next four years), healthcare for the employees, subsidized lunches, proper ventilation, in houses masseuses. Nobody is perfect, and American Apparel surely isn't. But the next time you guy a top at Lululemon, or Gap, as them where there clothes are made, how they are made, do your research. If you REALLY want to know about American Apparel, go to knowmore.org and type their name into the search bar.

Anonymous said...

Ahahaha
That "Lauren Phoenix" girl is a porn star

alexmercado said...

I have four or five friends that work at AA and they get laid regularly. I'm not into the hipster scene so i dunno, but the Div guy ordered one of my friends to buy him something like a sub serviant and she just told him to fuck himself.

The Budget Babe said...

Great post, I completely agree with you.

Whereas Dior, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, etc all have the good kind of sexy ads, American Apparel ads are lewd, disgusting and reek of child pornography and exploitation.

Anonymous said...

You really can never satisfy the masses. Everyone bitched about sweatshops, finally someone stepped in and did something. Now we hate when people aren't honest beings, and we find out a CEO who's not afraid to show his true colours, and we don't like his colours... I'd rather ask you what you would do to find a proper balance in this situation, and I would place my bet that you would all be persecuted for your ideas somehow. I'm supporting a clothing line who is doing well for now, until something better comes along. I don't condone a lot of things they represent and how they do it, but if I kept the mentality of not supporting something I know is doing good or progressive then my choices become sweatshops or what??? Transcend those thoughts and now I can just decide to boycott the USA for what they stand for, um well ok China as well, wow now thinking about it, not sure there's a country left I could feel confident about not having pissed off one of my own morals. No company will ever fully make me feel confident of spending my dollar with them. That's not always the point though, is it?
My apologies for the rant, I'm just a little frustrated with accusations that seem more hurtful then useful sometimes, and little is thought about alternative choices and greater good for people. We all wear plastics made from oil which has killed many people... we don't see anyone choosing to make a stand against that, do we? Soy plants ruining the environment... there will always be good and bad consequences to our actions. Can we all try and be a bit supportive of a good idea sometime.

Anonymous said...

uh, the ads are totally porno, and the sizes are f*&^ed up. If they cared about making Anmerican made apparel available on the market,t ehy would sell in wider sizes.