Dov Charney + American Apparel

Posted: April 19, 2011 by jerkmag in TRIM -- style
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American Apparel fills a niche in America’s retail landscape. The store is known for its basics, its ads and its prices. I first heard of American Apparel back in 2007 when they had the liquid and metallic leggings that Rihanna was seen wearing. I went to the store, found the leggings and paused: $40 for leggings? No chance, at least not here.

Time went by, the company only grew in notoriety and everyone seemed to be wearing it, especially with their “Legalize Gay” t-shirts. Dov Charney, the founder of the company had an easy concept that he executed well: making t-shirts, manufacturing them in America, and luring in the trendy young crowd. He built a loyal following of consumers who loved the brand and its image. His vision was coming alive along with the sales ($201 million in 2005).

Considering the weight of outsourcing in fashion, the fact that the garments are “Made in America” is a great cachet. Many praised Charney for his ability to produce in America and make a profit, which is something designers had been struggling with for years. Everything seemed to be working out well, until it wasn’t.

Fast forward to 2010. American Apparel is near bankruptcy and operates at a loss of $86 million: the glory days are over. Charney’s company is hit hard by the recession of the past few years. But on top of the stressed financial situation, his reputation is put in question. Three past female employees file charges against him for sexual harassment. Then five more.

American Apparel is known for having sexually charged advertisements. The catalogs and website are full of female models wearing clothing made out of mesh or exceedingly short shorts. The idea is to present a sexually liberated company where the young are free to express themselves without constraints in a natural manner. The models look like regular girls, wear little makeup, do not create impossible standards of beauty. It has been subjected to criticism from adults who view the brand’s image as soft-core pornography, too sexually charged, and consider Charney a pervert. The lawsuits or the fact that Charney shoots some of the ads did not help.

In the midst of all the controversy and financial turmoil, hundreds of employees have left the company, and many shareholders have left Charney to pick up the pieces. With 6,000 employees, losing almost a thousand makes a significant difference, especially with the homemade quality of the products. The company still has loyal consumers, but the brand image has suffered great damage. As 2011 plays out, so will the fate of American Apparel.

-Nadjma Sako

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