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Do the Right Thing
Women's Wear Daily
Marcy Medina
December 28, 2007

When American Apparel founder Dov Charney placed a quarter-page ad in the business section of The New York Times on Dec. 21 stating the plight of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., he knew he would get a lot of bang for his buck. But he wasn't quite prepared to deal with the resulting attention. "We didn't want to spend a lot of money on [the ad]. We might be doing more, but one ad in The New York Times goes a long way. I think a lot of people are going to find it historical because not many retailers speak out on this issue," Charney told WWD.

But he wasn't willing to verbalize any concrete plans for proposed action or legislation, locally or nationally. "I am thinking it through. I want to see if I can play a role in bringing some intelligence in this issue," he said.

When pushed about specific action, Charney added, "I'm just a 38-year-old guy in the schmatta business here trying to figure out how to do something."

The ad, which pictured a 24-year-old American Apparel employee of Hispanic descent, didn't say whether the firm has illegal immigrants among its 7,000-person worldwide workforce. "I'm not making any statements or assumptions about my employees. This could be any employer in Los Angeles," said Charney, though he added, "One of the major stakeholders in my company is my employees and we want to make sure we do the most we can to advance their condition."

The purchase of the Los Angeles-based American Apparel by Endeavor Acquisition Corp. became final earlier this month, but Charney, who has said in the past that politics don't sell, said he didn't know yet what impact the ad would have on his business or what his shareholders would think. "I am not at all worried about my ability to sell T-shirts now or two years from now. But one can't just crawl into a shell. It's important that business leaders and celebrities start talking about this issue. From an academic, human and economic point of view, this is good information to put out there on behalf of our corporation."

It remains to be seen whether "Mr. Charney Goes to Washington," to paraphrase the Jimmy Stewart film. But the long-controversial apparel figure aims to make an impact in his hometown, pointing to the example of Levi's desegregating its factories in San Francisco during the civil rights movement. "Why did Levi's do it? Probably because it was the right thing to do at the time. And they became known as a company that represented what America was all about," said Charney. "What Levi's was to San Francisco, we aspire to be to Los Angeles," said Charney.
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