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American Apparel: Fat chicks need not apply

By in Opinions

TOMAS BORSA
Opinions Editor

Everyone loves American Apparel.

Their styles are simplistic and timeless, their T-shirts are comfier than words can describe and their instantly recognizable undies can be found on just about every bedroom floor this side of Pluto.

According to Dov Charney, the young Montreal-born CEO and founder of American Apparel, the basic tenet that drives the company is simple: “T-shirts that look good, T-shirts that feel good and T-shirts that are made in a non-exploitative setting.”

The company has a well-documented policy of progressive labour practices: workers at their Los Angeles manufacturing facility receive company-subsidized lunches, bus passes, on-site massage therapists and free bicycles. But wait, there’s more: they also support the California-based Sustainable Cotton Project, and any materials discarded by the aforementioned workers (following a quick tapas lunch, naturally) are neatly recycled through the “Creative Reuse” program, resulting in a savings of 30,000 pounds of otherwise wasted cotton per week.

Ah, corporate responsibility. If only all businesses had the kind of moral standards and respect for their employees which American Apparel does.

But now would be a good time to put down that Pabst Blue Ribbon. For all the good American Apparel has done in setting the precedent for ethical manufacturing and fair treatment of its employees, a bit of digging will reveal a hiring practice where prospective employees are evaluated on their appearance. By adopting a process where advancement in the company is determined by appearance, American Apparel has integrated the ideals of superficiality and elitism into key components of the their corporate mantra.

The process of getting a job at one of their 281 retail locations follows the same standardized process: applicants drop off a resumé, and are also required to provide a headshot and full-body photograph. Photos are then sent to the email address work@americanapparel.net, where they are evaluated and — hopefully — approved for hiring. Cliquey and closed, the hiring system also includes a $100 bonus for current employees who refer any applicants.

Not surprisingly, the company’s official stance is one of deferral, insisting that these measures are not taken as an exercise in narcissistic self-confirmation but to ensure that employees are not “off-brand” — that is, that their style is not too wildly individualistic and fits the company’s imagined model of the ideal employee.

But implicit in the company’s policy of appearance-based promotions lies a more disheartening reality: under the vague premise of ensuring the stylistic suitability of potential employees, there is virtually no end to the number of qualified applicants’ resumés that could be thrown out, ultimately closing the door on otherwise highly qualified, motivated individuals. Not surprisingly then, you’ll have a very hard time indeed finding an employee of American Apparel who is even mildly overweight or unattractive.

The company’s official advertisement campaign both highlights and promotes this ideal — that is, the ideal of a body type which is wildly unrealistic and fantastically air-brushed. The world of fashion is certainly not naïve to hokey and vulgar ads, but as far as tasteless trash is concerned, American Apparel really does outshine the competition.

A brief — and tame, believe me — description of the ads might read: skinny white girl A pulling panties down, skinny white girl B spreading her legs, skinny white girl C’s ass, skinny white girl D diddling herself, and Dov Charney himself lying across a bed in his underwear (”˜cause he’s like, totally a feminist at heart ‘n shit).

The ads even include photos with Sasha Grey — an actual pornstar, not just another model doing her best rendition of one.

Having already established a reputation for precedent-setting corporate policy through sustainability initiatives and admirable labour practices — and given that it is now the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States — American Apparel, and more specifically Dov Charney, holds tremendous influence over what is considered acceptable and/or necessary to succeed in the fashion industry. Unfortunately, rather than continuing the trend of positive change, the company has invested their money into training attractive but presumably less qualified staff, and an advertisement campaign that even most fourteen year-old boys would find racy.

Not surprisingly, the company’s stock has slumped 53 per cent this year. It seems that a juvenile fascination with breasts and a barely peripheral emphasis on the qualifications of employees don’t combine to form a particularly viable business plan. Well, Dov — good riddance.

P.S. Your hoodies shrink too much after the first wash. You should really fix that.

UPDATE: An attorney for American Apparel responds to this article.

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