Inside American Apparel: 4,000 Downtown Employees and Countingangelenic.com
June 19, 2008
With over 1.4 million garments produced per week, American Apparel is the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States.
In this era of outsourcing and profits above all else, the company has made waves because of its high quality-control standards and efficiency, not to mention generous employee wages and benefits.
Sweeter still is that it's based right here in Downtown Los Angeles, employing over 4,000 at its factory headquarters at 7th and Alameda streets and nearly 7,000 worldwide.
Angelenic was offered an insider tour of the manufacturing center this week, and new contributor Bryan Higgins and I jumped at the chance to introduce a prominent Downtown industrial leader to our readers.
Many may be familiar with the slogan "Made Sweatshop-Free in Downtown LA" — not to mention their provocative billboard ads — but may not know what it takes to produce those soft cotton-blend hoodies, t-shirts and undies that populate the wardrobes of so many throughout the nation.
One thing's for certain: I'll never look at a t-shirt the same way again.
High-Tech Meets Low-Tech
The pink-hued factory headquarters building and adjacent distribution center is a veritable 24-hour nerve center for worldwide operations.
Vertical integration is the mantra here, meaning every aspect of production work — from the making of fabric to creating patterns, sewing, dyeing, product development and modeling — is done in-house. This well-documented management style minimizes wasted time and materials due to strict quality standards.
Skilled seamstresses and pattern-makers fill long rows of work stations, completing large wholesale orders and designing new products.
It's amazing what can be done when you don't have to wait weeks for a finished product to arrive from overseas. As proudly described by our guide Chris Gonzalez, an American Apparel designer can brainstorm an idea for a new line on Monday morning and have 40 production samples ready in two hours. The finished garments can be in stores by Thursday.
Retail transactions now account for over 50% of sales in 33 US states and 18 countries. IT professionals monitor the origins of Web hits to compare them with existing retail locations, and if a large number of hits to the online store originate from an area of the country underserved by American Apparel retail locations, that information is forwarded to the retail exploration team.
One key issue for often-controversial CEO Dov Charney is immigration reform, a point driven home by the "Legalize LA" campaign slogan plastered in ten-foot-high letters on the sides of the headquarters building.
The company sponsors a number of programs important to employees: Affordable health plans, skills and English language training, a free bike-share program, and perhaps most touchingly, free long-distance phone service on every floor of the building.
Growing with the Community
Think that's a good deal? American Apparel is undergoing a large hiring drive at the moment, with positions available in every department from production to information technology. There's a specific need for qualified people in accounting and finance.
What started out in 1997 with 40 employees has grown into a huge publicly owned corporation. Who knew that in today's corporate America putting the well-being of employees above profits can lead to business success?
Full American Apparel Photoset on Flickr
747 Warehouse Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021
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Made in Downtown LA—Vertically Integrated Manufacturing