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Questionable American Apparel CEO pits crude background against positive business ethics
An alternative clothing store opens near campus, selling clothes made without using sweatshop labor
Chicago Flame
Michaelia Fosses
January 9, 2006

It's hard to be a socially conscious consumer sometimes these days. The vast world of corporate America leaks into almost every part of life; to try to escape from it would be a futile run through an enormous corridor of McDonald's', Banana Republics, Abercrombie and Fitches, and Wal-Marts. A few years ago, the world of corporate America was taken by storm with a corporation that (seemingly) had a heart.

In came American Apparel, a brand of clothing that sells only simple, solid cotton apparel that was made in one of the United States' only garment factories, a factory just outside of Los Angeles. Factory workers are paid a livable wage ($8-$18/hr); part of the company's "mantra" is "sweatshop-free clothing."

But anytime that something different comes along, there is backlash. The backlash, in this case is against the CEO and founder of the company, a man who has had more than his fair share of sexual-harassment lawsuits filed against him, Dov Charney.

The company intentionally uses sex to sell its garments, from provocative ads featuring scantily clad models (sometimes, just a clerk at a neighborhood American Apparel store) often wearing only one item: a t-shirt or a pair of socks. The cash register area of the Wicker Park store is decorated with the covers of vintage Penthouse magazines.

But it's no secret that sex sells. Careful, consensual adults have sex; it's an important part of life that will not be ignored, no matter how much some repressed individuals try. These ads are not being marketed to children, the company markets to young adults as its target audience. Young adults who want to buy clothing with a clear conscience, without having to wonder about the working conditions of the people who created the garment. But with the lawsuits filed against the founder and CEO of the company, the once-clear conscience of the consumer can become cloudy.

Buying something from American Apparel puts money in the pocket of the man with a questionable background and reputation. But the question here is a familiar one: What is the lesser of two evils?

While it is not up to me or anyone else to make a judgment on the moral character of a particular man, I can still support a company that I know is trying to do something different, to support local workers and to provide high quality garments in this country. I do not know the truth behind the three lawsuits accusing Charney of sexual harassment (as of now, all but one have been dropped), but I do know the truth about the business practices of the company, and I understand the vision of the company, and I support that vision.
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