The Rise & Fall of American Apparel

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Creative Commons Image

American Apparel has closed down all of their retail shops - the unthinkable has happened.

American Apparel’s first retail location opens its doors in Los Angeles, California in 1997, according to the Los Angeles Times. Dov Charney, the company’s original CEO and founder, begins the creation of an iconic brand like no other. For instance, all manufacturing for the brand's clothing took place in downtown Los Angeles. All company employees, including factory workers, were paid fair wages. Those two factors led to coining the company’s slogans, ‘Made In Los Angeles’ and ‘Sweatshop Free’, two things that hardly any other companies can hold to be true.

For years, the company had been successful and popular amongst young adults. The company’s success then plummets after Dov Charney is charged with sexual assault for the second time in the company's history in 2011.

Although Dov Charney may have made some very horrible mistakes in the past, he also created the iconic brand that is American Apparel. Unfortunately, the company suffered tremendously because of the sexual assault cases filed against Charney. He was ousted from his once successful company in 2014 after the board members of American Apparel saw how much money the company was losing each year because of the sexual assault cases filed against him, according to the Los Angeles Times. Over the course of the next few years, the company went through a few new CEOs while filing for bankruptcy twice.

On January 12, 2017, an auction for American Apparel was held. Gildan, a Canadian clothing retailer, bought the company for 88 million dollars. That was the beginning of the end for American Apparel. Over the next few months following the auction, American Apparel retail locations started closing one by one. As of May 1, 2017, all American Apparel stores are all now closed down for good.

Prior to the company going under and disappearing, I had worked at an American Apparel store. The company always had the appeal of unique timelessness, which is what gravitated me to apply for a job at one of its retail locations. July 31, 2013 is a day I’ll always remember, as it was the day I got hired to work at American Apparel.

At the age of 17, I was a girl who was still in the process of finding and embracing my identity. I was also the youngest employee at my store, which made my first few days of working that much scarier. It was my first job and I had no idea what to expect.

After a few months of settling into my new job, the store became my second home where I loved working at my job. A trait that patterns throughout the company was the empowerment of self acceptance. Whether it be through one’s sexual orientation or body shape, the company embraced diversity. The models on the online store were of all different shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. Working for a brand that didn’t just display very slender models felt self assuring, as I had been dealing with severe body image issues. It was a reminder I should accept myself no matter what size I am.

I was proud to say that I worked for American Apparel. They weren’t just some typical clothing company that sold ‘trendy’ items, they were much more than that. The company also supported many controversial issues that I also cared about. In 2008, when proposition 8 was passed by voters, American Apparel made an effort to let their LGBT employees know that they too supported what ever decision they made. “We believe in freedom, expression and equality, things that are inherently condemned in the prohibition of gay marriage” (according to American Apparels website). The company went on to sponsor protests and events by making their infamous ‘GAY O.K.’ t-shirts.

The company was also in support of immigration reform, which is an issue near and dear to my heart. None of my immediate family members are immigrants, but I know my ancestors had been. The issues American Apparel supports all come down to supporting basic human rights, the right to be who you are. That is the biggest thing I learned during the entirety of my time with American Apparel. Not only does everyone have a right to be who they are, but they should also be proud of it.

American Apparel will forever hold a place within my heart, and probably those of many others. It was a company that pushed boundaries in many ways. I hope that one day there will be another company that shares the same values of fair trade and wages, while remaining stylish, that American Apparel upheld for many years.