Why You, Too, Can Love American Apparel.
American Apparel is a hipster mega mart managed by a sleaze ball chauvinist who exploits sexuality to sell outrageously overpriced clothing. And I support it. As the two Austin stores near their one-year anniversary, give thanks back to this shamelessly honest company by dropping your paycheck on something with a high waist.
Dov Charney, the 39-year-old CEO and founder of AA, runs a proudly sexualized business. Charney himself has faced five charges of sexual harassment from his employees, not including fondling himself in front of a Jane magazine reporter or dropping his pants for a reporter of BussinessWeek. His free-love mentality is filters in to his raunchy advertising campaign—I’m so hot and bothered after browsing their website I often have to take a cold shower. AA’s ads that appear in The Austin Chronicle and on Facebook feature buxom, doe-eyed men and women wearing barely any clothes at all in lurid positions.
Even though Charney and his ads are of questionable character, the ads are a much-needed break from popular culture. Most of his models are amateurs and employees. They’re short, chubby, freckled, oily, unshaven, uncut, and untouched. Their legs haven’t been digitally stretched and they don’t need fat airbrushed to their ribs. Models have razor burn and thigh dimples.
AA is wildly successful not simply because its ads drip sexy, but because they are so accessible to the audience they’re trying to reach. Middle class 20-somethings looking at a BCBG Maxaria ad might have a hard time imaging themselves as an oily Greco-Roman wrestler with their peacoats blowing in the wind. If you can let go of your qualms with their eroticized nature, you’ll find AA’s ads (ironically) unpretentious.
Their supersexed advertising approach isn’t anything new in the world of marketing. Some feminist websites, including Feministing.com, accuse AA for having near-pornographic marketing and refuse to host their ads. Let’s think about Abercrombie and Fitch’s approach to selling clothes: plaster posters of naked teenagers in your store. Armani shows naked women crawling through water with men standing over them. Since the 80s, sex and trendy clothes have been the peanut butter and jelly of America.
Blaming AA for exploiting its models sexually is a poor way to attack an ethical company. Charney pledged to never outsource labor to attain cheaper production, and he treats his workers with the utmost respect. AA employees earn, on average, $12 an hour with unparalleled health care benefits—this includes factory workers, whom are 75% lower-class Hispanic. He hires massage therapists to give free neck and hand massages to on-the-clock workers. He mandates synchronized stretching breaks. And AA still reaps over 200 million dollars in profit annually, according to National Public Radio.
But does paying your workers fair wages simply give you an avenue to exploit them through your advertising, or in Charney’s case, for your personal pleasure? If Charney’s models, both male and female, were coerced or forced into posing for the photos, there may be some argument against the campaign. But his workers are vying for the opportunity. "The fact that some people chose to project 'victim' onto [the ads]…is only an indication of their own distorted perceptions about women and sexuality," said AA photographer/model Kyung Chung during an interview with Newsweek magazine.
So I may have to take more cold showers after shopping at AA this holiday season, because a girl still needs legwarmers in every color of the rainbow. While I’m not comfortable with the avenues marketing has chosen to take in the last 10 years, Charney and his managerial ethics remain ever-sexy to me.