Last month, American Apparel launched a nationwide contest to find a plus-size model, in celebration of the brand’s addition of XL sizes to a couple of their styles. The contest, titled “The Next Big Thing,” was rife with euphemisms and jokes, which outraged many who felt that the contest was mocking, rather than celebrating plus-size women.
But no one felt stronger than Nancy Upton, who challenged American Apparel by entering the contest and submitting photos of herself gorging on food, and generally satirizing what she perceived to be the company’s misconceptions about plus-size women.
Of course, Upton actually wound up receiving the most votes in the contest, and should have won but the company decided to award the title of “Next Big Thing” to other contestants.
Now, The Frisky has alerted us to a letter American Apparel’s Creative Director Iris Alonzo sent to Upton, which Upton also published on her Tumblr this morning. The letter addresses both Upton’s campaign against the contest, and the reason why she didn’t win despite getting the most votes.
Alonzo begins by apologizing for offending Upton and to assert that, while the contest may have been misinterpreted, their “only motive was to discover and celebrate the many beautiful XL women around the globe who enjoy our brand, and to promote the recent size additions to our collection.”
Alonzo also responds to accusations that a sales rep allegedly told a shopper plus-size is “not [their] demographic,” something that Upton has referenced on her blog. Alonzo said in the letter:
I don’t recall the name of the confused employee credited with saying that, but he or she was sadly uninformed, and our company certainly does not endorse their statement. For as long as I can remember, we have offered sizes up to 3XL in our basic styles, and as far as adding larger sizes to the rest of our line is concerned, if there is the demand and manufacturing power to support it, we’re always game.
Alonzo also goes onto defend lawsuit-prone Executive Director Dov Charney saying that despite negative media reports, she can “represent a ton of people I know when I say that we really like Dov and we passionately believe in his vision for a beautiful factory with sustainable practices,” noting that the “sensational media will always need something to latch on to and success, spandex and individuality (and mutton chops circa 2004) are certainly easy targets.” We hardly believe that all of Charney’s sexual harassment issues have been because of his hairdo, however it is interesting to hear Alonzo’s take on the subject, as she’s woman who must work closely with Charney.
While Alonzo keeps it pretty classy throughout the letter, she does resort to some snarkiness on the subject of Upton being denied the winning title, saying that while she had the popular vote the company instead chose contestants they “feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out,” which seems to suggest that Upton is neither of those things in their eyes. (We wholeheartedly disagree.)
We actually kind of feel bad for American Apparel. It seems like no matter what the company does, it always leads to controversy. Then again, maybe that’s sort of the point–or as, Alonzo hints in her letter to Upton, “maybe the PR ups and downs are all part of our DNA as a company.”
PR stunt or not, American Apparel should not take people’s offense too lightly–a brand as large as they are have the power to really affect the general population’s psyche, and they should remember that behind the outraged buzz of a controversial PR stunt, are real people with hurt feelings.