One of the biggest fashion topics of discussion this year (and the past few years) was American Apparel and its controversy-laden founder and CEO Dov Charney. Since January, Dov and his company have been through a lot. On the controversy end, they've showed pubes and boobs in their steadfastly NSFW ad campaigns, faced several very public sexual harassment accusations, held a plus-size modeling competition with a messy outcome and lost an employee to an industrial knitting machine, to name a few of the stories we can recall. In terms of business, they've come within inches of bankruptcy, received a $15 million cash injection from a group of Canadian investors, and announced a few efforts to get back on track like launching denim, selling through eBay and Bloomingdale's and offering third-party merchandise.
While we've all heard about AA's downtown L.A. factory, great wages, and vertically integrated business model, we're still left with questions about why they've struggled so much and what really goes on inside that company--many of which are finally answered in an in-depth piece in the latest issue of fashion glossy Flaunt. Matthew Bedard visited Charney both in Toronto for a company event and AA's L.A. digs and sheds a light on the company's most prevalent issues, including the sexual harassment allegations, financial problems and new plans, manufacturing in the U.S. and more. Click through for the most interesting things we learned (and the most incendiary things Charney said).
Charney, speaking about this year's onslaught of sexual harassment charges, compares them to a gay man being hassled for having gay sex...we think. He just likes to fool around with girls:
It’s getting strange, you know? Things are strange. Like, at our company, we’re all about gay rights--everyone’s sexuality is human. But, there’s still the conservatives, the scared people, just looking for a little enemy, looking for new sexual things to clamp down on. But we don’t want to fall into that trap--only talking about sex--because the larger message gets lost. The problem with me is that my personal sexuality, or whatever, has been used against me, and it’s taken away from our ideas. It’s like a great gay guy had fantastic ideas, it’s 1964 and everybody’s like, ‘Geez, geez, he screws guys in the asshole.’ Yeah, he screws guys in the ass...so what? I like to fool around with girls. Get over it.
American Apparel models and employees can't have plucked eyebrows because Charney doesn't like them. Iris Alonzo, one of the company's two creative directors, who occasionally appears in ad campaigns, said:
For instance, Dov will say something like, ‘Girls are over-plucking their eyebrows. It’s gotten out of hand.’ So we start using girls who pluck their eyebrows less, which turns into people at the store telling the employees to keep it natural--they’re little things that grow into a look, a distinct aesthetic. None of our models have plucked eyebrows now.
Alonzo also refutes the sexual harassment claims and defends the power of females in the company:
That anyone would try to exploit and jeopardize a company, just for money and attention--and that is what the claims have turned out to be--well, it’s just really sad. We work side by side with Dov every day, which is why the sexual harassment suits are so infuriating. It’s only when I read that people think we are ‘a bunch of men making all the decisions’ that it hits me--the misperception. In fact, 65% or more of our management is female, and we’re an empowered workforce. I don’t know if that’s rare. I don’t know the norm.
Charney vaguely blames the company's problems on immigration setbacks. He says of the recession:
Things happen, right? But we basically made it out of the tunnel. We had issues--the United States government immigration. Things came up, triggered issues with our ability to generate profits, triggered some issues with some of our banks and lenders, triggered some issues with our ability to finance our company. Well, we got through it all. We’re through the tunnel, big deal, couple scars brushed off. Everything will heal.
Here is the company's plan to get back on track financially and the revenue goals they have set, as explained by Charney:
This year, we’re going to make 20 million dollars of EBITA--you know, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization--and next year we can make 40-50 million and get back on track. I think in the course of a number of years, we can be making 100 plus EBITA. And to me, that’s a respectable business. And to be cash flowing those kind of dollars.
Charney thinks manufacturing should and will be brought back to the United States in the future, feels American Apparel is a cult:
We are committed to pursuing a contrarian point of view. In my opinion, manufacturing within the United States close to the distribution center is an avant-garde point of view--but some people may not understand that. By hiring people that are in the company, that understand the benefits of that is less explaining to do. That allows us to kind of create a cult that allows us to pursue the contrarian point of view without distraction.
You can read the full piece here. Does this change your view on AA or Charney in any way?