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"The fact that our tees are sweatshop-free is really a minor component in why people buy them. People buy them because they're better than what's available."
-Dov Charney
Sportswear Magazine
September-October 2003

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics says the bulk of T-shirts — those made in places such as Bangladesh, Honduras, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt and Mexico — are likely to be made by women and children who earn less than a dollar a day. Sadly, tees made in "worker positive" conditions haven't been very good: They're often shapeless, itchy or too hippie. Until now. American Apparel, which just opened a London office to coordinate European sales, launches across Europe this year. This five-year-old Los Angeles-based company is the creation of Montreal-born Dov Charney, 34 who has combined his skateboarder's love of tees with his concern for workers' rights. His company is already the third biggest T-Shirt manufacturer in the U.S., after Hanes Corp. and Fruit of the Loom (also its rivals in the printed to order market). A $40 million company, American Apparel expects to double its sales this year. Charney says this proves that it's possible to give the competition a run for their pesos and still do the right thing. And the shirts are groundbreaking — even for thise who don't want to save the world. Bearing "sweatshop freeT" labels, the $12 tees, vests, sweats and polo shirts are extremely fashionable. Slim cut, fitted around the arm, and made from soft, ring-spun U.S. cotton, they narrow from the shoulders to create a sexy fit for men and women. Loyal workers who earn up to $20 per hour produce the shirts in L.S., and everything but the dyeing is done in-house. "The fact that our tees are "sweatshop-freeT" is already a minor component in why people buy them" says Charney. "People buy them because they're better than what's available: a better fit, flattering to the body without being androgynous, right for their generation. They may consider the ethical element, but it's still the overall value they really buy. And the fact is that you give better value by using the best manufacturing systems, by being vertically integrated and efficient, not by relying on social inequality, which is unacceptable, but also inefficient to start with. Our T-Shirts are proof that capitalism can bring high wages to the masses!" Charney is now planning to take his ethos to China, a country with extensive labor abuse problems. By opening factories there, run under the same lines as the one in L.A., he hopes his company might become the new kind of business model in Asia. And he's going ecological: American Apparel already recycles over half a million pounds of fabrics scraps and a program is in place that over the next four years will see the company convert 80% of it's cotton consumption to sustainable cotton (it will be at the 20% stage by next year). "It's young people who want decent T-shirts." Charney says. "And that's what I'm trying to make, with wages at western industrial levels, with a distribution structure that provides access. The ethical element should be taken as read: and I think we're about to see a spontaneous combustion of this kind of business."

For more information on the sweatshop-free movement, visit: www.nlcnet.org.