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A Quiet Company Makes Big Bang On T-Shirt Market
Courant Rock Critic
Eric R. Danton
April 29, 2005

It's ironic, really. American Apparel, a company committed to not putting its logo on the clothing it manufactures, is the T-shirt maker of choice for a growing number of rock bands.

The shirts are popping up at merchandise booths at concerts all around the country, and some bands make specific mention when they have American Apparel shirts to sell. The online store selling Wilco gear mentions American Apparel shirts, Death Cab for Cutie links to American Apparel from its website, and Flogging Molly posted signs touting the shirts during a recent performance in Hartford. The Comas, a North Carolina band, have used the shirts for years.

"It's crazy to see how they're just everywhere now; it's cool," says Coma member Nicole Gehweiler.

There's a nice symmetry there: Dov Charney, founder of American Apparel, made his first foray into the business by selling T-shirts outside concerts in his native Montreal. Now that he designs his own shirts, he's not surprised bands want to print their names and logos on them. Unlike the boxy, boomer-centric T-shirts for sale at, say, Fleetwood Mac shows, American Apparel shirts have a slimmer fit that appeals to skinny rock boys (and girls).

"Music and fashion are about the human sense and it makes sense that bands would want to use the best-fitting shirts," Charney says.

Many of those bands make the bulk of their money from merchandise sales, which means the stuff had better be good enough for fans to want to buy it. There's more than that at work with American Apparel shirts, though. The company's socially conscious reputation is a big draw for some bands and record labels, too.

The monthly e-mail newsletter for Merge Records recently touted American Apparel shirts bearing the name of the record label, and Barsuk Records prints its logo on American Apparel clothing.

There are three reasons, says label co-founder Josh Rosenfeld.

"No. 1, they claim in all their advertising not to use sweat-shop labor, and they pay their employees well, which I'm sure influenced reason No. 2, which is that our bands and employees requested we use them," Rosenfeld says. One of those bands was Death Cab for Cutie, whose members are recording their major-label debut and were not available to comment.

"Three, their shirts are actually really nice," Rosenfeld says. "They're nicer than the other brands, just the way they fit and the way they look."

- Eric R. Danton

Contact Eric R. Danton at [email protected]
Copyright 2005, Hartford Courant