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There's more to basics brand than meets the eye
The Plain Dealer
Roxanne Washington
September 27, 2006

After popping up all over the United States and around the world, spreading the gospel of logo-less basics in every color imaginable, American Apparel has come to Greater Cleveland.

The store landed in the bustling Coventry area of Cleveland Heights Aug. 2, and the welcome reportedly has been quite warm.

"This neighborhood has been very receptive to the store," says Christen Whitehouse, assistant manager. She notes, however, that folks from farther reaches of Northeast Ohio also have sought out American Apparel as word of its arrival spreads.

"It's amazing because we haven't done any advertising, so people are finding out about us word-of-mouth."

American Apparel is a Los Angeles-based chain that, as the name makes crystal clear, produces in this country - specifically, in downtown Los Angeles. Everything from the designing to cutting, sewing and shipping happens under one roof.

American Apparel receives its share of media attention not only for that reason, but because it's the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States, employing 5,000 people, says communications director Cynthia Semon. The national media also has taken note of the fact that American Apparel pays among the highest wages in the apparel industry - $12.50 an hour and higher - and provides workers with health and dental insurance, free massages and even bicycles for transportation to and from work.

"Back during the Los Angeles transit strike [in 2000], Dov Charney [the company founder and CEO] provided free bicycles to employees who couldn't get to work," says Semon. "For some, that became their preferred way of getting to work even after the strike ended. Now we keep about 85 bicycles for people to use and helmets, and we maintain them once a week."

As for the free massages, well, that's just because.

The company's provocative advertising - most of it online - has raised a few eyebrows, too. At the Cleveland Heights store, there's a large photo of a woman propped up, her backside facing the camera, in an American Apparel thong. Another picture depicts a scraggly guy (you can't even see what he's wearing) who looks as though he's under the influence of a mind-altering substance.

"A couple of mothers [shopping in the store] have said something about the pictures, maybe because it's not really something they really want their children to see," Whitehouse says. "But that's been about it."

Controversy aside, American Apparel seems to be filling a fashion niche for a lot of people. Sales went from $20 million in 2001 to nearly $250 million last year, and around the world three to six stores are opening every month.

Sales also are brisk on the Web site, www.americanapparel.net.

American Apparel keeps things simple with men's, women's and children's T-shirts, polos, tanks, hoodies, skirts, dresses, track suits, yoga gear and so on, in so many shades that the racks look like rainbows.

The designs are excruciatingly spare, and there's not a word printed on anything in the store. The company could be called No Logos R Us.

That's what attracts Aaron Wilson, who lives in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood.

"It's nice to wear plain T-shirts," says the 35-year-old Wilson, who discovered American Apparel in Canada and bought it online before the store opened here. "A lot of rock bands wear American Apparel T-shirts because they can have things printed on them, but I like them because nowadays it's hard to find a T-shirt with nothing on it."

Robyn Manley, 25, describes her style of dress as hippie-high fashion, a style that sounds like the opposite of American Apparel spareness. But that's why it works for her.

"That's the good thing about the clothes," says Manley, who lives in Cleveland Heights. "You can take these basic pieces and add anything you want to them."

Manley is particularly taken with a stretch tube dress she found at American Apparel. .

"It's like a throwback to the 1980s disco-style dresses," she says. "I have a plain halter dress that I wear a big belt with. Ever since I discovered this store, I've been addicted."