the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

American Apparel… Hey, Zip Up Your Fly!

This morning I was in a grouchy mood reading about Robert Blake in my local Coffee Bean on Wilshire Blvd.   I decided to toss the LA Times and read the Los Angeles City Beat, one of those freebie independents in which you can learn about the latest cinema from Hungary and order an Asian escort at the same time.

On the back of the City Beat was a full-page ad for some company called American Apparel.  The company’s calling card was that their clothes were “Made in downtown LA.  Sweatshop Free – Brand-free Clothes.

I knew nothing about them, but I had seen their ads before, always with some half-dressed, thin,  pseudo-ethnic-looking girl pouting at me.  Since I was still pissed off from my “size-14” Beverly Center experience (see here),  I started ranting in my head about this company.

Here were more bad role models for young women on display.   The model looked like an underage porn star.  And what’s with this “brand-free” nonsense?   (read about Naomi Klein and the anti-brand movement.   And by the way, American Apparel, what’s with the big trademark symbol after your name?  That’s your brand!  And that pouty girl in her bathing suit.  That’s your brand, too!

I went home and checked out the American Apparel’s web page.   I did a 180.  The villain turned into a hero.  Senior partner Dov Charney seemed to care about his employees.

Charney’s socially responsible initiatives have included affordable health care for employees and their families, immigration support, free English and computer classes, subsidized lunches and bus passes, as well as a commitment to paying decent wages (averaging over $12.50/hour) for the company’s nearly 1,500 workers.

The NY Times wrote a glowing review on Dov Charney.   Here’s what CNN’s Lou Dobbs has to say about American Apparel (in QuickTime).  And guess what! — despite the skinny girls in the ads, American Apparel actually sells clothes to real live American woman in  L and XL.

I felt ashamed for judging a shirt by a label, or in this case, the lack of a label.  This was one of the good guys.  I decided to give Mr. Charney my first “Citizen of the Month” award for being a cool guy.

I decided to Google-up some more positive biographical information about the guy, not realizing that I wasn’t the first one who wanted to know more.   And I learned more.  You can learn a lot more about Dov Charney at Jewlicious, including his fondness for masturbation and his experience playing with himself in front of Jane Magazine reporter Claudine Ko.

I don’t know this guy and I don’t really care.  What interests me is that there is a fine line between a hero and a creep.   If he’s doing some good work, is it OK that he likes to run around his office in his underwear?  Not to compare this crazy Charney with one of America’s founding fathers, but is Thomas Jefferson any less of a hero since we learned about his connection to slavery?   What about JFK, FDR, Martin Luther King and their affairs?

So why did my opinion of this guy go down the toilet after hearing this?

Do we know too much dirt about society’s good guys to look up to them anymore?


  1. Jim

    All their ads look like pornography.

  2. melinda

    Charney is definitely imperfect. But no one’s perfect. In the meantime, the lawsuits against him are melting away an the company keeps growing. And their clothes are just perfect!

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