It’s been a while since we checked in on Dov Charney’s American Apparel. Regular readers know that AA is one of our favorite companies, perhaps even lean without knowing it, as Dov has figured out how to manufacture low margin clothing in Los Angeles, paying above minimum wage plus benefits, and still outcompete the Asian sweatshops.
All of American Apparel’s items are made a the plant in Los Angeles
where he started the company. He pays 3,500 people up to $18 an hour,
making them the world’s highest-compensated garmet workers. Charney
stresses vertical integration. Operations are consolidated at the LA
headquarters, allowing for close control of costs, quality, customer
service, and flexibility. The company can design a shirt and have it
in stores in less than a week.
Of course Dov is a bit of an odd fellow, to put it politely.
He openly displays his passion for his company… and sexy women. When
he decides to wear clothes, he dresses like a ’70s-era porn star, and
defends his right to run a "sexually free" workplace. This includes
walking around in his briefs, and exposing himself eight times to a
So what’s he been up to over the past few months? Mark over at the Lean Blog shot me an email last weekend to let
me know that Dov had been spoofed on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. Hopefully a video clip will soon surface, but for now we’ll have to live with a photo or two. Anyone worthy of being on SNL is obviously doing something right… perhaps.
Apparently Dov started young. Last month a report and video surfaced of an pre-teen Dov discussing his early visions of capitalism while at a youth camp. Dov’s none too pleased.
In 20th Century Chocolate Cake, a young Charney talks about how he hides money from the redistributionist staff at his "communist" summer camp and about how all the food in his care package was given away to ungrateful poors. Maybe Charney’s worried his childhood ramblings will tarnish the labor-friendly American Apparel brand. He should just be grateful he didn’t talk about anything else he may have done at summer camp.
And those of you going to the AME Conference in Toronto next month can witness another Dov controversy… a rather edgy billboard. To put it politely. A small photo is to the right; visit the link for more, but still work-safe. To top it off, in this case the photo on the billboard is a self-portrait of American Apparel’s lead photographer. Facing up to the criticism of the billboard, the company takes it even further to the edge.
American Apparel headquarters told the Globe that such an
interpretation overlooks the artistic value of the ad. "It is a little
bit disconcerting to see what feminism has evolved into," said Marsha
Brady, one of American Apparel’s two creative directors. "When …
there’s a group of people attempting to shame female creativity, female
beauty, female pride under the auspices of protecting women, it’s
really, really scary."
And we can’t forget the fact that several people have been intentionally spoofing the already edgy AA ads, including one discussing Barack Obama. Again, to put it politely. I won’t go further, except to warn the more sensitive among you not to click on the link.
A couple weeks ago, while wandering around Zurich, Switzerland, I happened across on of American Apparel’s newest stores. In fact, it opened only two months ago, and is now one of over 200 retail outlets. Yes, the company is growing, and that is the most important news out of the land of Dov.
"Even in this economic downturn, at a time when unemployment is at a
five-year high, American Apparel has hired over 2,500 new employees [in
Southern California] this year," said Marty Bailey, chief operating
officer for the company.
"At a time when plenty of
business owners and clothing stores are cutting their losses and
shipping production overseas, American Apparel is expanding here in its
hometown," [LA mayor] Villaraigosa told a group of American Apparel employees.
The company, which touts a "Made in Downtown
L.A." slogan, manufactures more than 200,000 items a day at its
Downtown headquarters, where about 5,000 people work.
Apparel has drawn attention for paying relatively high wages and
providing significant benefits to its employees. It is also known for
its staunch support of immigrant rights and labor policies. The
Downtown headquarters, painted a striking pink, is marked by the
"Legalize LA" and "Immigration Reform Now" banners hanging from the
Yes, those of you even thinking about moving production overseas to take advantage of so-called cheap labor should be ashamed of yourselves. If a company can grow using "high cost" American workers to create low margin clothing products, then anyone can. While supporting immigrant rights… perhaps "compassionate capitalism"?
And think of the fun you might have if you follow Dov’s example. Or even a SNL spoof.