Pitched to appeal to a new generation of “Young metropolitan adults not preoccupied by monogamy” in the words of company CEO Dov Charney, the photographs that have made American Apparel infamous vividly reflect the character of Charney himself. Described by one website as a ‘visionary pervert’, it is well documented that he is a sexually charged man; he once masturbated in front of a journalist, and has faced several accusations of sexual harassment by a string of former employees, though none of these have ever been proven in a court of law.
But it is not Charney’s adverts or his sexual promiscuity that is behind the latest controversy to taint the name of American Apparel. Rather, it is his company’s employment policy that has this week been making waves. It began last year when a disgruntled American Apparel store manager leaked an email to the website Gawker.com. “[Dov] went on a huge tirade and made stores that weren't doing well send in group photos”, wrote the manager. “He is tightening the AA 'aesthetic', and anyone that he deems not good-looking enough to work there, is encouraged to be fired… Dov wants to weed out the ‘ugly people.’”
Charney promptly issued a response, denying the accusation. "We strive to hire salespeople who… themselves have good fashion sense," he said, "but this does not necessarily mean they have to be physically attractive."
Yet more emails, leaked again to Gawker last week, have been adding greater weight to the claims that Charney’s employment practice is discriminatory. All aspiring American Apparel employees must now submit “head to toe” photographs of themselves before they are considered for a job. And while the company’s website reassures applicants that they “are open-minded and are looking for individuals who are of all shapes and sizes”, according to previous employees this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Not only did they police our clothes but our eyebrows, makeup, nails and hair color” one previous manager told Gawker. “Our store consultant also on several occasions told girls to lose weight or told them they were ‘too top heavy for crop tops’...They routinely denied applications based on looks or shoes.”
The company have since issued a statement claiming that they judge not on “beauty” but on “style” – though the rising tide of employee accounts suggesting the contrary leaves this open to question. They may be known for their “sweatshop free” garments and for paying their factory workers twice the minimum wage, but beneath their ethical veneer ugly demons lurk in the closet of American Apparel.
A version of this article appears at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/blog/2-the-skinny-blog/449-a-skinny-take-the-demons-of-american-apparel