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Sex apparel
Sydney's AA branch has opened on Oxford St at last. Self-confessed addict Dan Rookwood dropped in for a fix of retail therapy.
Dan Rookwood
August 20, 2008


"People think that because I talk about hot ass that I'm sort of pervert. 'Hot' to me is 'intriguing', 'taste-making'," Not exactly what you'd expect from your average businessman. But then there's nothing average about Dov Charney, the controversial 39-year-old founder and CEO of American Apparel.

Since 2003, American Apparel has become a global phenomenon. In the past five years, 143 stores have opened in 11 countries - the very latest being Sydney's flagship store on the corner of Crown and Oxford Streets in Darlinghurst. Taking up both levels of the iconic building which once housed the Remo General Store and more recently, Gowings, American Apparel seems the perfect fit for a landmark location which has sadly sat empty for over two years.

Charney is hot - according to his own definition of cool. He's a progressive, intriguing global taste-maker. Despite being one of the world's fastest growing clothing companies, his brand has become a byword for understated, logo-free style. Each store carries different products to avoid monotony, but all sell bright well-made, affordable cotton T-shirts, hoodies, dresses and (rather improbably) Y-fronts fro girls and boys to represent what Charney deems to "world metropolitan culture".

Cleverly, Charney's economies of scale means he can sell affordable style without having to cut costs in third-world sweatshops. 'Made in the USA' and 'Sweatshop-free' tags with reasonable prices on them have lured customers into the stores - alongside the billboards of scantily-clad 'models'. More on that in a moment.

All 4,000 employees in American Apparel's solar-panelled LA factory are paid performance-related wages, ranging from $12.50 to $18 dollars an hour, leaving the Californiana $6.75 to slink away in shame. Subsidised meals, free English lessons, bike loans and on-site masseurs are also perks of the famous Charney package. More on that in a moment, too.

Charney attributes the success of the company to the fair treatment of his workers. "I believe in capitalism and self-interest. Self-interest can involve being generous with others."

There's no doubt that Charney has got his finger on the pulse - if not his models as well. Another reason that AA has raised some eyebrows is the approach Charney has taken to advertising. Not only is he the CEO, he's also the photographer. Most models are employees, others are friends. Along with the photography sessions have come a few sexual harassment lawsuits. Although the factory is air-conditioned, Charney has been accused of conducting interviews in his famous Y-fronts and using suggestive language. Charney's cheeky response in court: "I frequently drop my pants to show people my new product."

The controversy doesn't seem to have any negative impact on sales. For a long time, Australians had to make do with the AA website and few stores that stocked their product (normally with a small price mark-up). But the global expansion arrived in Melbourne in March and in Sydney three weeks ago - with plans for stores in other state capitals within the next 12 months.

"Australia has been needing something like this," says Will Snell, AA's rep in Sydney. "American Apparel makes good quality, logo-free basic clothes that people love. And it does so in a fantastically ethical way. So there's no guilt; it's a win-win"

American Apparel, 82 Oxford St. Darlinghurst 2010. (02 9358 2666 www.americanapparel.com.au).