Made in Downtown LAVertically Integrated Manufacturing
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Mary Portas gets vertically integrated with American Apparel
Telegraph Magazine
Mary Portas
May 12, 2007

Saturday afternoon on Portobello road is not the most relaxing time to do a shop but it's the only time I have to get to my local American Apparel. Fighting my way through wide-eyed tourists, café chairs, fruit boxes and a rainbow parade of babies' Bugaboos, I eventually get in the door. You might have picked up that I like this shop. It's a progressive cotton T-shirt emporium, where the products arrive via what is known in the trade as Vertically Integrated Manufacturing - production and marketing take place at one location, in this case Los Angeles (and not China). At AA you can buy cheap, fun clothes, safe in the knowledge that they are sweatshop-free.

The windows
How many brightly coloured cotton combinations can go on one mannequin? I counted 12 to be the top score. What fun! All the mannequins looked like club kids on their way to a rave. Beyond stretched a warehouse-style store, all cement floors and grids of neat shelving and rail systems heaving with brightly coloured clothes.

I was greeted be vertical rows of colour co-ordinated singlets, tees, skirts, shorts, dresses, catsuits, jogging suits, jeans and underwear for men, women and children.

The clothes were divided by style, colour and size. I hungrily grabbed pastel, 'fluoro' and white cotton garb and headed for the changing rooms, of which there were only two, though the queue moved quickly.

Was I being served
Very well. The Americans know how to serve. The store was packed, yet the floor staff acknowledged me with a nod. I was after a pair of coloured jeans, and an assistant pressed a design in electric blue into my hands.

Did I buy?
The jeans weren't really me, but I stocked up on white vests and black leggings. The reasonable prices - from £8 to around the £40 mark - meant that I could buy without guilt.

Genuine on-trend knowledge shines out of the design of theses clothes. Don't expect a perfect finish, but do expect clothes you'll enjoy wearing. The shop buzzes with youthful energy, and the whole sweatshop free element is great too. The ethos, culture, service and sophistication of the business and the fact that their tees last for a year at least, means they get my pound.

'How to shop, with Mary Queen of Shops' by Mary Portas (BBC Books, £14.99) is available for £10.95 plus £1.25 p&p from Telegraph Books (0780-4284112;

Pictured short-sleeve leotard £19; Boy Beater tank £12

American Apparel 176 Portobello Road, London W11
Visited Saturday afternoon
Number of stores Three
What they sell Cottons made sweatshop-free in LA
Website American Apparel
Key player Dov Charney, founder and CEO

Star rating **** (out of 5)
Good for quality cotton basics in masses of styles and colours. Bad for anything unique, or detailed. No embellishments here. Next week Hoopers
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