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Looking for comfort and corporate responsibility, college students buy American
The Capitol Times
Jane Rotonda
November 18, 2008

UW-Madison senior Catherine Matloub is frequenting the new American Apparel store downtown not only for what she calls great basic clothing, but to support the company's powerful immigration stance.

"Madison is a liberal city with ideas and beliefs similar to that of American Apparel in issues concerning the outsourcing of jobs," Matloub said. "I think that alone will contribute greatly to the overall success of this particular store."

The Los Angeles-based company is the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States, offering comfortable and versatile clothing and known for its issue advocacy as much as the new looks featured in Web advertisements and display windows.

American Apparel chose downtown Madison as a store location in hopes of attracting college students, and to contribute to the company's success and expansion nationwide, said Katherine Valadez, the Madison store's assistant manager. On the corner of State and Gilman streets, its prime location is promising to bring in a steady flow of shoppers or casual passersby.

Originating in Los Angeles, American Apparel has a unique devotion to promoting immigrant rights and labor policies. The company has an advertising and advocacy campaign called "Legalize L.A.," encouraging immigration reform.

To set an example for the textile industry, the company pays its factory workers $12 an hour, well over the federal minimum wage, according to its Web site, It also offers a wealth of benefits to workers, including parking, subsidized public transport, subsidized lunches, free on-site massage therapy and a bike lending program, in addition to affordable health insurance.

American Apparel is best known for, but not limited to, its basic cotton knitwear such as T-shirts, tank tops and undergarments. Items also available include dresses, pants, scarves, skirts and various accessories for both men and women. Although the clothing is basic, much of it fits snugly and makes cotton and cotten blends look sexy. The bright lights and white walls inside the Madison store draw attention to the endless colors, fits and styles.

Matloub said her favorite product is the leggings. "They are so comfortable and versatile," she said. "I wear them when I am rushing to class or under dresses when I go out."

Joy Gilleland, a UW-Madison junior and self-described American Apparel fanatic, said Madison and American Apparel are an ideal match.

"The products offered perfectly accommodate the typical busy college student lifestyle; they are basic and comfortable, but stylish at the same time. I personally love the basic V-neck T-shirts because they are easy to wear and can be dressed up or down, depending on your mood."

American Apparel, despite recently having opened a flurry of brick-and-mortar stores around the nation, does not allow franchising of its stores. It also opened a store in mid-August on Milwaukee's trendy east side.

That reluctance to grow too big too fast can be felt in the State Street store, where employees seem helpful and busy accommodating customers. "We only intend to employ 12 salespeople -- we want to keep it small," Valadez said.

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