That’s it. I’m breaking up with American Apparel.
Our relationship started off healthy enough. I was a tank top-loving college student when the brand and its edgy essentials took off in the early 2000s. Skin was in and American Apparel’s charismatic founder, Dov Charney, capitalized on the trend in a way that felt cheeky, not skeevy.
The company’s over-sexed image soured over the years, but I continued to stop in to the store—for leggings and bathing suits in my 20s, mini baseball Ts and sweatpants for my newborn when I became a mom at 31.
Supporting the store made me queasy as allegations against Charney piled up—he faced a procession of lawsuits alleging either sexual harassment or assault during his tenure—but my brand loyalty was buoyed by local pride.
Here in Los Angeles, American Apparel’s success has always amounted to more than a bottom line. The company, noted for its progressive labor policies, showed how socially-conscious brands could be financially viable a full 17 years before Toms began outfitting impoverished children with hipster shoes. As American Apparel opened stores abroad and grew to be the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States, it became something of a global ambassador for our city and the most recognizable of L.A.-based retailers.
So when American Apparel’s board of directors ousted Charney in 2014, it felt like a bold step forward. The company next door with a heart of gold had stuck up for itself—and its customers—at last. The board’s follow-up decision to hire industry vet Paula Schneider as CEO felt downright mature.
Depressingly, the company’s stalled since then. Despite attempts to distance the brand from Charney’s influence, Schneider hasn’t gotten it to move on—or improved sales. A regulatory filing shared last week revealed that American Apparel “may not have sufficient liquidity necessary to sustain operations for the next twelve months.” Then, a video of a handful of employees beating a piñata bearing Schneider’s likeness and donning pro-Charney shirts, purportedly in response to recent layoffs and tension over an effort to unionize, hit the Web. I’m all for workers rights. But simulating violence against a woman, even in the context of political protest, is not the way to get my attention.* Schneider condemned the incident and characterized it as carried out “by a small group” in a memo to the staff that was published by BuzzFeed.
But watching the spectacle unfold on my computer screen, I knew I could no longer root for the company, which is divided at best and masochistic at worst. Forgiving consistently poor customer service and overlooking questionable brand alliances is one thing. Knowingly funding a workplace that perpetuates a culture that fosters misogyny is another. I’ve grown up. American Apparel hasn’t. That’s a business problem an entire warehouse full of feel-good message tees can’t solve.
*This line has been updated for clarity. This post has been updated to reference Schneider’s response to this week’s protest.