American Apparel: Trading sweatshops for sexism
I first heard of American Apparel when I started buying wholesale t-shirts to screen print on. I was excited by their politics and more than willing to pay a little extra for shirts that weren’t made in sweat shops. They presented themselves as a company that cared about their workers with ad messages such as “Fuck the brands that are fucking the people.” But now I question if the decision to be sweatshop free is more about marketing than a truly progressive mindset. Mainly concerning to me is the founder Dov Charney’s views on women.
Using sex to sell fashion is hardly new and by now the accepted norm within the industry. At first I expected a bit more class from what I thought was a progressive company, but that wasn’t the case. Their ads used to feature a sexually charged photo of a woman with a headline saying “100% Sweetshop Free”, or “Made in downtown L.A.”. Lately though they’ve been dropping the sweatshop line and turning up the heat on the photography. Now it’s all about crotch shots, asses, and bath tubs. Now Toronto quotes Charney as saying that they’re “de-emphasizing the sweatshop-free angle because it’s ‘passé.’”.
Reading more about Dov continued to annoy me. He’s sex obsessed and fancies himself some sort of sexual freedom warrior. He masturbated numerous times in front of a female interviewer during a Jane Magazine piece last year and in various interviews has admitted to sleeping with his co-workers and models. He’s callous towards the notion that this puts him on shaky ground, dismissing sexual harassment as a fabricated issue.
Charney’s sexual antics with his younger employees are obviously inappropriate because they contribute to an environment of sexual harassment. But Charney laughs at such a notion, attributing ideas like sexual harassment to a “victim culture” among women. “Out of a thousand sexual harassment claims, how many do you think are exploitative?” he asks. In any case, “women initiate most domestic violence,” he said. (link)
Not only are his facts about domestic violence just plain wrong, he seems to have little respect for women in general.
Political correctness, in his opinion, has created an unbalanced culture that’s unnaturally constraining. “Feminism is extremely restrictive. You can’t call a woman a bitch, you can’t call her this, you can’t call her that. But that’s what life’s really like. Yet, she can do whatever she wants. It’s out of balance and that’s why young people haven’t embraced feminism, because it’s out of balance.” (link)
Not that he’s concerned about criticism.
“Are people saying I should behave better? What are you guys worried about? Maybe you need to pull a whack or something,” he says, laughing. “It’s not PC to critique gay sexuality right now. But the heterosexual guy who likes to slap girls on the ass, he’s like a monster. God forbid I was a hermaphrodite – then everyone would shut the fuck up. (link)
When I wrote about Vice Magazine a while ago my mind kept trying to find a connection between Gavin McInnes and Dov Charney besides their Canadians births. I think the key similarity is their dismissal of political correctness as meaningless and out of touch. They try to define themselves as new politicos in touch with a youthful zeitgeist, rather then just men behaving badly.
I don’t even have time to get into if American Apparel is a union buster, how their women’s shirts come in strangely small sizes, or how disappointed I am that numerous shirts I have are falling apart. Check out the links at the end if you’re interested in learning more.
My point here isn’t to call for a boycott of American Apparel, and I’m not dismissing all of their politics as bunk. But many people, myself included, buy their clothes as much for the politics as the style. Is it worth the extra cost when I know the company founder has such sexist anti-woman views? Have I been swindled by a sweatshop free marketing ploy? Should I really have to make an ethical choice between worker exploitation and sexism just to buy a t-shirt?
- The McGill Daily: American Apparel founder speaks about sex, youth, and the aftertaste of social justice
- Washington Square News: American Apparel not progressive, just perverse
- Jewlicious: Dov Charney, Jane Magazine and Google (read the comments)
- Get Underground: Hunger for Progression
- Musicians Against Sweatshops: Statement concerning American Apparel
- Brand Channel: American Apparel
- PoliticalAffairs.net: The Truth Behind American Apparel
- Big Fat Blog: American Apparel: We Want Big Sizes!
- The Link: Are we ready for the third wave?
- Now Toronto: Porn pushers or youth prophets?
- Dov is facing some sexual harassment lawsuits (NYTimes): His Way Meets a Highway Called Court
- If the employees sue, go for a professional: American Apparel Goes Porn