It's been a bumpy ride, but a good one.
American Apparel — hailed as the company that clothed Millennials — was recently purchased for about $88 million by Gildan Activewear, a Canadian clothing retailer, after the company lapsed into Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in a year. As a result, American Apparel's assets are likely to soon be sold off completely, causing a huge number of their stores to close and thousands of layoffs.
And that makes me REALLY sad — for a number of reasons.
Over the years, American Apparel was undoubtedly a large presence on the everyday fashion scene. Dov Charney founded the company in 1997 when the doors to the first American Apparel in LA were opened. The company was synonymous with LA-cool. The brand was not only trendy and fashionable but also had a progressive commitment to causes that resonated with the LA community.
Charney moved his company toward a sweatshop-free environment (very unusual for the fashion world) and the company exercised fair labor practices by giving their garment workers fair wages and benefits.
I remember stopping by the American Apparel factory store when I was visiting LA as a freshman in college. The racks of clothing on sale at the factory store shared the same floor as their garment workers.
I recall hearing the chatter of various languages as I made my way past the store's mannequins, which were clothed in neon tights and cropped tops.
Throughout the factory, there were signs boasting of the company’s sweatshop-free practices and the transparency of their treatment of factory workers. It was legitimately amazing to see that in person.
It made me realize that American Apparel was so unique because they were (shocker!) proud of their ideals. They stood firmly for the rights of their workers, and they were vocal about their beliefs. In an industry that infamously exploits workers, American Apparel proudly believed in fair treatment of their LA-based factory workers.
The company boasted of their US manufactured goods and their transparent treatment of their workers, but they weren’t completely free of faults. They were also known for their provocative and controversial ads, which pictured their models in suggestive poses.
Sure, some of the brand’s advertisements were far from classy, but on the other side of this, American Apparel had a unique approach to casting their models.
They used real women of different sizes, skin tones, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. American Apparel proved that there was a place in modeling for women of different looks and backgrounds.
In addition, the company rarely used Photoshop to touch up their images, and they discouraged the use of heavy makeup in their photo shoots. The result was a catalog of models who looked REAL.
American Apparel had a highly sexualized image, but their catalogs displayed authentic people. Since they didn’t conform to the fashion industry’s beauty standards, American Apparel showed that people could be beautiful without heavy makeup or Photoshop. The fashion industry is known for packaging unrealistic ideals of beauty, so it’s important that real people (this includes people of different heights, body measurements, ethnicities, and ages) are represented in advertisements to show that beauty isn’t limited to one ideal.
American Apparel’s demise brings along with it the causes that the company was adamant about, including US manufacturing, LGBT and immigration rights, and the representation of different body types in their ads. It’s hard to think of any other apparel company that is as vocal or insistent as American Apparel was about these causes.
Gildan has yet to say what its plans for the future are, but the end of the brand is undoubtedly significant. And, yes, Dov Charney is rumored to be grade-A creep, but the company and the brand he helped create transcended his own personal failures.
American Apparel had its faults (did it ever), but the company supported so many important causes that it can't be ignored. The overwhelming probability that the company will be shutting down is pretty devastating in a number of ways — but on the bright side, we can all look forward to the upcoming sales over the next few weeks.