American Apparel is losing customers with debated ads, CEO

A friend of mine brought up a subject on Facebook (yes, I am a proud member of Generation Facebook) that has not gotten as much coverage lately as it should have. A little clothing chain called American Apparel, beloved by hipsters everywhere for its sweatshop- and label-free couture, has received some criticism for its hyper-sexualized ads and unorthodox CEO, Dov Charney.

Now, let me pause here and state that I am in no position to pass judgment on anyone for buying clothing made by companies using sweatshop labor and questionable advertising. At the risk of seeming like a hypocritical know-it-all, my intentions are merely to shed a bit of light on the American Apparel discussion, which has received minimal attention in the mainstream media.

While I applaud American Apparel for its labor-free products and for rejecting logos in an industry dominated by name recognition, I am a little confused by the company’s decision to use advertising that portrays women in an overly sexualized and objectified manner.

The whole labor-free, no-logo manifesto hails from a generally progressive mode of thinking that also recognizes that women are more than their (100-pound) bodies. Furthermore, the consumer base of American Apparel largely consists of people who consider themselves to be part of the hipster “counterculture,” people who are not interested in that antiquated notion that naked, skinny women sell.

It certainly does not help American Apparel that its CEO evokes “the seedy side of the disco era,” according to an article from Last time I checked, the sweaty, mustachioed, STD- and drug-infested male figure was no longer “hip.”

Some elements of this archetype have survived in hipster culture, though I hope only in the ironic sense. Yet, with his involvement in four sexual harassment lawsuits in recent years and a history of bizarre public sexual behavior, something tells me that Charney is not an ironic misogynist.

So, American Apparel, what can be done to win back your educated, progressive core? For one, put clothes on your models. Remember that you are selling a product called “clothes.” Two, take a cue from Spain and South America: Hire models who have seen the other side of 100 pounds. There happens to be a large population of lovely ladies who eat and still rock hipster couture better than any stick-thin model ever could.

Otherwise, Mr. Charney, I think you might find your former customers shopping at other hipster outlets or, better yet, at second-hand stores. Sweatshop labor is oppressive and unethical, but so is the exploitation of women in the media. Although I frequently have felt otherwise, one does not have to sacrifice any principle to have great clothes.

Carrie Bass is an art history senior. E-mail [email protected]