Made in Downtown LAVertically Integrated Manufacturing
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Basics triumph at American Apparel
The Rice Thresher
Margaret Tung
September 15, 2006

Guilt-free shopping? Well, sort of. Originally from Los Angeles, the best-known brand of clothing trying to compete with sweatshop manufacturers has finally created an outpost in Houston.

Marketed as "vertically integrated manufacturing" which means that the brand's entire production process is completed in the same warehouse American Apparel boasts clothes made in downtown L.A. by well-paid factory employees. The store has already caused a stir in other parts of the country from savvy New York City shoppers to Oregonian hippies and has even gained international clout. There are stores in London, Berlin, Tokyo and others. Housed in a clean, minimalist, all-white space, the Houston store feels more like an adult urban loft than a cookie-cutter clothing chain.

The good news keeps coming. Most of the women's clothing and accessories range from $11-$46 and come in sizes extra small to large. For those playing it safe, t-shirts made of the softest jersey cotton come in more than 30 colors from sangria to sea foam. The unisex jersey zip-up hoodie will be just warm enough for Houston winters and is the kind of clothing item that both boys and girls will want to wear to class every day.

And for those who like to take risks, lame gold hot shorts and leggings think '80s party fabulousness can be found near the back of the store, right next to the supply of dance leotards. And to those seeking to buy into the black leggings trend a la Lindsay Lohan: Look no further. Paired with one of their dresses the highly functional two-tone halter dress that converts into a tube dress would be a good choice any budding fashionista will be able to exhibit star quality on campus.

The standout piece of the store this season which also comes in more than 30 colors, all of which come in the signature jersey cotton is a long, skinny piece of fabric that comes with endless possibilities. It can be swung over the neck as a casual scarf, tied in a loose bow below the neck for a night out, cinched around the waist for an obi-style belt or anything else creative minds can think up. The scarf even comes with an instructional video that can be found online, so half of the thinking is already done.

On the men's side, expect to find more comfy T-shirts and polos, ranging from sizes XS-3XL. Also, '70s-style track jackets, track pants and sweatbands abound.

The salespeople exude the laid-back L.A. vibe but are surprisingly helpful when customers have questions especially if inquiring about a certain size or color.

If utterly wearable clothes packaged with a message of corporate responsibility sounds appealing, American Apparel is worth a stop. As their store concept shows, not all retailers are created equal.
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