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A Cut Above
A little over a decade after he began selling wholesale T-shirts from his Tufts dorm room, Dov Charney has reshaped the garment industry.
TUFTS e-News
August 18, 2003

Los Angeles - Dov Charney entered the T-shirt business in high school, buying shirts in the U.S. and hauling them over the border to sell in his native Canada. While he was as Tufts, he distributed T-shirts wholesale out of his dorm room. Now Charney, the founder of American Apparel, is making waves in the garment industry for his fitted T-shirts, labor rights policies and renegade attitude.

"Today, the average American keeps more than 25 T-shirts in his or her dresser drawer, and American Apparel, the company Charney started when he was in his mid-twenties, is still the absolute trendsetter in the industry," reported Canada's National Post.

Before Charney came on to the apparel scene, the industry was focused on bulky one-size-fits-all T-shirts for both men and women. Charney noticed that women were starting to buy boys — not men's — shirts, which fit smaller and trendier. He decided to design his own product specifically fitted for women — and in doing so all-but revolutionized the T-shirt market.

"[Charney] shook up the American casual-apparel industry — and the way a good many people dress — by introducing T-shirts shaped for the sexes," reported the Post. "More specifically, he introduced a set of T-shirts labeled Classic Girl, cut to fit a woman's figure, at a time when Hanes and Fruit of the Loom were covering America's collective bodice with boxy, XXL 'beefy' tees that fit both genders with equal non-specifity."

American Apparel has since grown into a major manufacturer — and is innovating in more ways than just the cut of its T-shirts. According to the Post, "Charney runs the single largest garment factory in the United States, mainly because his competitors have long fallen for cheap and sometimes exploitative offshore labor."

In contrast to other major T-shirt manufacturers, Charney runs the business, design and production all in Los Angeles — where he pays his factory workers well above minimum wage.

"The 33-year-old owner . has built a reputation as a fighter for worker's dignity," reported the Los Angeles Times. "Media profiles praise him for lavishing generous pay and benefits on his employees and preserving jobs that might otherwise by lost to foreign sweatshops."

The company's benefits are so good — including massages and healthcare for employees — that there is a long waiting list for employment, and not one worker has quit in more than two years.

Charney — who hires many immigrants and helps them obtain citizenship — says his business is dedicated to returning humanity to an industry long criticized for its sweatshops.

"We know the faces of our workers," Charney said in an interview on CNNfN. "We're committed to paying them a living wage and committed to treating them like human beings. That's what sweatshop free means. It is about bringing dignity back to the workspace of apparel."

American Apparel has been so successful in its mission that TIME Magazine wrote that the U.S. garment industry "could use more companies like Charney's."

As the former Tufts student told the Post, he plans to keep pushing the industry forward.

"We are also going organic. As of next year! Organic cotton! We're going to save the workers and the environment," Charney told the newspaper. "It's going to be huge!"