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Hip clothing firm coming to Waikiki
Star-Bulletin
Erika Engle
October 28, 2008

American Apparel Inc. will open its first Hawaii store on Nov. 10 at 2142 Kalakaua Ave.

"We've been opening a ton of stores lately," said Shawn Shahani, a community outreach coordinator with the company, based in Los Angeles.

The Waikiki store measures just less than 3,240 square feet and the company is hiring. Stores typically employ 15 to 20 people, Shahani said. Its Web site indicates it is hiring management, stock, and sales personnel.

American Apparel went public in December and has been expanding, with some 231 stores in 18 countries.

Despite the economic downturn, same-store sales have been going up, he said.

In the retail and wholesale business, American Apparel has the largest garment factory in the United States, according to the New York Times. It makes all sorts of clothing for men, women and children, but is known for its tight-fitting T-shirts "and brazen attitude," the Times reported.

Some see its advertising as risque.

The "marketing scheme is based around the idea that people want to wear clothes that look good."

Some see its support of immigration reform as troublesome.

"We offer a modicum of controversy (as we) move into certain neighborhoods," Shahani said.

The company supports allowing undocumented workers a way to become U.S. citizens and has drawn protests. A group called Save Our State, which seeks deportation of undocumented aliens, staged a protest outside American Apparel's Hollywood store earlier this year.

"It is controversy that we welcome, because we like to initiate conversation about immigration reform," he said. A large percentage of its workers are immigrants.

"Everything we do is not part of an agenda," Shahani said, saying he even dislikes the word.

"We have environmental initiatives, but we do it because it is the personality of the company ... same thing with social initiatives," he said.

It promotes itself as sweatshop-free and is non-union.

Its garment workers earn from $12 to $18 an hour, they get health care, "we have a clinic, we subsidize bus passes, we subsidize lunches." The company offers free English classes and employees can make and receive free long-distance calls. "The idea is that if you treat the workers well they're going to work harder for you," Shahani said.

As an apparel maker geared at least in part toward the youth market, the company is on social networking and microblogging site Twitter.com. It has also connected with Christa Wittmier, a doyenne of the local nightlife and club scene, to tap into the local market.
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