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Dov Charney
Influential in 2002
Apparel News
December 13, 2002

This year was a year of transition. The economy showed signs of recovery but remained weak. Retailers and manufacturers, by and large, took a cautious stance. And consumers continued to spend — but much more judiciously than in years past. Amid all this uncertainty, several individuals, organizations and events stood out as influential over California's apparel industry. Some made their mark through adaptation — whether by finding ways to work with existing legislation such as AB633 or by breaking away from a troubled parent company. Others did not let the uncertain times derail efforts to seek out new business. And many continued their campaigns to promote the local industry and local designers.

There was a spirit of cooperation in 2002, in which companies and people put aside competitive issues to continue to build, support and sustain the apparel business in Los Angeles.

And there were instances in which people and organizations stood out by setting an example for others to follow.

Taken as a whole, those individuals and entities who made themselves influential in 2002 gave retailers a reason to come to California, companies a reason to stay in California and the local industry a reason to be proud of the work done in California.

Dov Charney wants to change the way the garment industry is perceived — and he plans to do it by setting an example. The ebullient president of American Apparel has parlayed his background selling U.S.-made T-shirts on the streets of Montreal into a fast-growing — and highly visible — player in Los Angeles' apparel industry. Charney launched his imprintable T-shirt business in South Carolina in 1991 and relocated to Los Angeles, shuttering the East Coast side of the business, in 1998.

Charney is as concerned with the internal environment of his company as he is with the bottom line. To that end, Charney has instituted a policy of paying a living wage of up to $12 per hour [actual wage as of Jan. 2004: $12.50/hour] to the 800-plus workers employed in American Apparel's knitting and sewing facility located in the produce district of downtown Los Angeles. He also upgraded lighting and machinery in the plant, with worker safety in mind. And he offers comprehensive health coverage to his employees. According to Charney, he can do all this and turn a profit — by instituting more-efficient means of production and by manufacturing and marketing a better T-shirt. Charney has also taken a stand on domestic manufacturing, choosing to divest himself of ownership in a sewing facility in Mexico and consolidating production in Los Angeles.

No stranger to self-promotion, Charney is not afraid to broadcast his strategy to the press — or the world, for that matter. This past year, American Apparel and its employee policies were featured in a documentary that ran on PBS.