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American Apparel
The Wild Man And His Shirts.
Sonntagsblick
Stephanie Bollag
June 5, 2005

Dov Charney not only sells T-shirts, but he also sells himself as well as a new concept of capitalism. Instead of relying on models to advertise his merchandise he is betting on his own backside; and rather than manufacturing in Asia and utilizing cheap labor, he chooses to employ much higher paid employees in the United States.

A man, dressed only in a T-shirt, flashes his naked rear to the camera. What could be seen as a poster for a porno movie from the Seventies turns out to be an advertisement for the largest T-shirt manufacturer in the United States. And the rear end belongs to the boss of American Apparel, Dov Charney. Provocation comes easy to the founder and mastermind of American Apparel. " We are young, we have fun, we party and we make money in a socially responsible way. What could be more cool?" Right! No big deal. Besides, it sells. After all, we have become accustomed to considerable naked skin in advertising, just not to the rear ends of CEOs. It is this unconventional behavior that has made this native Canadian the U.S. "Entrepreneur of 2004". The T-shirts of American Apparel, however, are anything but unconventional, their colors being the only obvious feature which makes them different. They bear no logos; they have no imprints and they are made of 100% cotton. The exclusiveness of American Apparel shirts is not so much based on the product itself, but rather in the production method.

It all began, when the young Charney was enrolled in a boarding school in the state of Connecticut in the United States. Before each trip home, he stocked up on T-shirts made by Hanes ( which you could not buy in those days outside the U.S.), and then sold them in the streets of his native Canada. At a later time he borrowed two thousand dollars, bought T-shirts with the money and had the logo of his university printed on them. Within six weeks he made four thousand dollars. Even before American Apparel existed, while involved with a night club strip girl, Charney designed his very own first T-shirt, which is still made today. Finally, in 1997, at a time when the textile industry was already out-sourcing production and jobs to low-wage countries, he founded his company. During five consecutive years he managed to double his sales volume — and he achieved this without help from pieceworkers in Third World countries. His motto "sweatshop-free" was his ticket for success, which sounds almost like a fairy tale. Charney's T-shirts are manufactured right in the center of Los Angeles rather than in employee exploited sweatshops in the Far East.



From the very beginning Dov Charney had a vision: to combine economic success with social responsibility. This open-minded thinker is presently employing close to 3800 people in his seven story high, pink colored factory in downtown Los Angeles. Everything in the production process originates under one roof: from the design to the manufacture, from the photographs to the advertisements. On average, the male and female workers of American Apparel are earning three times the U.S. minimum hourly wage of $5.15.

Additionally, they are provided medical insurance; can attend free English and yoga classes, enjoy massages, are allowed to make phone calls during breaks and are provided with a bicycle service free of charge. The work areas are light and well ventilated. And the atmosphere is informal. Charney calls his concept "Social Capitalism", a concept that makes him the darling of all spectrums of American society. The Bush advocates support him because he is loyal to America for securing jobs at home; and the liberal Left approves of him because he treats his employees fairly and protects the environment. Altogether, everyone is happy.

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