Last night, before Hurricane Sandy hit and devastated the North East and Mid-Atlantic regions, American Apparel sent out an email blast to promote a special sale available to customers in states on Sandy's path (Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland). "20% off everything for the next 36 hours" the sale touted, "in case you're bored during the storm."
Almost immediately, there was a small backlash on Twitter. Mashable, who put up a report about the sale and the reaction to it, highlighted a few angry tweets: "Really @americanapparel? Sandy Sale email blast? really? The lowest of low. RT this if you are insulted," wrote David Honig; "I just received a 'Hurricane Sandy sale' email blast from @americanapparel. I will forever boycott their stores. RT if you're with me," wrote Whitney Hess. Refinery 29 and Racked followed with similar stories about the outrage.
When reached for comment over email, an American Apparel spokesperson told us, "Of course we'd never mean to offend anyone and when we put the email out yesterday it came from a good place." The motivation, the retailer explained, "is that retail stores are the lifeline of a brand like ours so when they are closed, we need to come up with ways to make up for that lost revenue. People forget how expensive it is to run a Made in USA brand like American Apparel and if we made a mistake here it came from the good place of trying to keep the machine going--for the sake of our employees and stakeholders."
To be fair, American Apparel wasn't the only retailer offering Sandy sales. Racked NY currently has a roundup of Sandy specials from Steven Alan, Catbird and Lauren Moffat. Earlier today Saks tweeted, "For those of you going stir crazy - our http://Saks.com site is happy to entertain you..."
American Apparel also pointed us to its Corporate Responsibility page, which shows how the company has given back over the years, and indicated that it plans to follow suit with Sandy. "With a factory and trucks here in the US we plan on doing the same charitable giving we do in almost every natural disaster," a rep told us.
American Apparel is no stranger to controversy. And it's hard to argue that pegging a sale to a natural disaster that's resulted in several deaths and massive destruction leaves an icky taste. But they're not alone. So did they cross the line this time?