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Shirt shop sells apparel made in AmericaRocky Mountain News
May 7, 2005
It's like walking straight into the 64-crayon box of Crayolas.
American Apparel's first Colorado T-shirt store at Belmar in Lakewood boasts bright magentas, dark purples, bright yellow and more.
The logo-free T-shirts, dresses and other cotton pieces don't have far to travel to hit the shelves - all of the company's products are made in a Los Angeles factory where workers average $13 an hour.
The company provides lunch, paid days off and health insurance for a weekly $8 premium, said founder Dov Charney, and all 3,200 factory workers are full time.
Charney, a quirky entrepreneur who has posed for ads wearing only an American Apparel T-shirt, says having production so close to headquarters makes sense for his company, and it provides for quick turnaround and the flexibility to change with customer needs.
He's quick to point out that he's not against outsourcing production to other countries but that the close-to-home factory works best for his company.
"It's not just about no sweatshops - it's about the ability to make good quality products," he said.
Overall, about 97 percent of clothing sold in the United States is imported - about 16.5 billion garments in 2003, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, a Virginia-based trade group.
Outsourcing the manufacturing to countries with cheaper labor has kept garment costs down even as the overall cost of living rises.
Charney and a partner own the company, which booked sales of $150 million last year and anticipates revenue of $250 million this year, he said.
Nationally, sales of T-shirts are expected to reach $18 billion this year, up from $17 billion last year, according to NPD Fashionworld, which tracks consumer buying trends.
Begun as a wholesaler, the company still makes most of its money selling in bulk to screen printers. Increasingly, though, retail stores have become a bigger part of the picture.
The Belmar store is one of about 50, Charney said, including locations in England, France and Germany.
Stores are often decorated with photos of attractive young employees wearing the company's wares, and they aim to appeal to the target demographic shopper between 20 and 45.
Charney began his career selling T-shirts on the street, he said, and by the mid-'90s was manufacturing shirts in a South Carolina factory.
American Apparel was officially launched in 1997 in Los Angeles.
Despite paying higher wages, he said, the prices for his clothing line - which has expanded from T-shirts to include dresses, lingerie, swimsuits and even doggie T's - are comparable to boutique-type competitors.
T-shirts sell for around $14 or $15 in the store, as well as online and through a catalog
The Belmar store has been attracting young adults from around the area, attracted to both the products and the sweatshop-free philosophy, said store manager Greg Martinelli.
Despite the fact that most clothing is made overseas, there are other companies making their pieces closer to home, Charney said.
"I think there's a lot of companies that make great products - for example FAS Shoes, a San Antonio shoe company - there are a lot of great U.S.-made products. It's a stereotype that things can't be made here."
Contact Janet Forgrieve at forgrievej@RockyMountainNews.com
Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News
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