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The American Apparel store on N. High Street in Columbus offers casual clothing in bright colors.
Made-in-U.S.A. retailer growing
American Apparel's success in Columbus fuels expansion
Columbus Dispatch
Jeffrey Sheban
July 4, 2006

Success in Columbus has prompted a unique and fast-growing retailer to expand in Ohio.

American Apparel, which features basic T-shirts, sweats, underwear, socks and casual clothing — all made in the United States with no sweatshop labor — will open stores in Cleveland Heights and Cincinnati this summer.

The first Ohio store opened in Columbus at N. High Street and 5 th Avenue in November and has been a hit with the neighborhood's young, trendy and socially conscious customers.

The store, with large display windows featuring colorful clothing and large, candid photos of customers and store employees modeling the wares, is midway between the Short North and Ohio State University.

"That's definitely the kind of location we look for," company spokeswoman Cynthia Semon said. "We look for areas and communities experiencing an urban renewal."

There must be plenty of them. American Apparel, founded in 1997 by Dov Charney, 38, is growing at breakneck speed.

The company started as a wholesale business and opened its first retail store in 2003. Now, there are 135 of them in 12 countries, with six to nine stores opening monthly, Semon said.

Sales have more than tripled since 2003, hitting $250 million last year. Online sales are running $1 million a month.

The source of its merchandise is what really distinguishes American Apparel from other retailers. While most companies import virtually all of their garments from abroad, everything sold by American Apparel is designed and made in Los Angeles of fabric its 3,200 workers knit and dye. The company also operates all its stores.

American Apparel pays its garment workers an average of $13 an hour with health benefits, and offers subsidized lunches and massages, Semon said. That compares with the average of about 40 cents an hour that textile workers earn in China, a major source of imported clothing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Our model is different," Semon said. "Being able to produce the best and highestquality product in a work environment with those same standards is what's important to us."

The business philosophy matters to some customers, while others have no idea.

"I think it is important," said Alyssa Tobin, 21, an Ohio University student from Bexley.

"I look at the quality and how it's made, but I also like them because of the selection and array of colors," she said. "It's more fashion-forward than other stores that just sell Tshirts."

Dezoray Carmicle, 22, who lives in the OSU campus area, was visiting the store last week for the first time. She wanted a bathing suit.

"This is cool. It's, like, my style," she said.

If there's a controversial side to the business, it's the founder. Charney, a Canadian who dropped out of college to start selling T-shirts, has bared his bottom in some of the sultry ads promoting the business. He's also been involved in three sexual-harassment lawsuits filed against him and the company.

One accused him of ordering a worker to hire "hot girls" for Charney to have sex with, of exposing himself and of wearing only men's underwear in his office, according the The Chicago Tribune.

Charney, who wasn't available for an interview, also is known to get involved in hiring decisions in stores. He told Inc. magazine in a recent profile that he's not ashamed of hiring and occasionally flirting with clerks with a certain sex appeal.

"You can't have all Mary Anns on Gilligan's Island," he said. "You need Ginger!"
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