American Apparel Exploits Women

American Apparel positions itself as a socially conscious place to shop. The company is concerned with environmental sustainability, fair wages and gay rights. But what about women’s rights?

At the root level, American Apparel produces basic knit garments in a rainbow of colors and prints. Behind the scenes, the company claims to be committed to socially responsible business practices. Factory workers are paid nearly double the minimum wage and receive subsidized healthcare for themselves and their families.

Each piece of clothing is manufactured in a partially solar powered factory in downtown Los Angeles. The company takes pride in being American made and sweatshop free.

Walk into any American Apparel store and you will be immediately bombarded with larger than life images of scantily clad women in compromising positions.

What is American Apparel trying to sell you?Out of 31 ads on its Web site, 29 feature women in sexually demeaning positions. Many of the images border on pornographic. Women are shown licking their armpits, spreading their legs. Models are often headless, no more than an anonymous torso.

Last February, American Apparel announced its “Best Bottom Contest.” Contestants were to submit a picture of their American apparel clad bottoms and visitors were urged to rate the pictures to pick the winner.
Although some submissions were male, most were women. The fact that these people willingly submitted pieces of themselves to be judged baffles me.

The faceless pictures offer a sick sense of anonymity. The faceless pictures voluntarily reduce the women in them to a body part. The contest exploits women and makes me wonder- what exactly is American Apparel trying to sell?

Founder Dov Charney has had five sexual harassment lawsuits brought against him by female employees. Charney maintains his innocence, even going as far as to state:

“Women initiate most domestic violence, yet out of a thousand cases of domestic violence, maybe one is involving a man. And this has made a victim of culture out of women.”

Charney has shown up to meetings naked and has attempted to give his female employees sex toys.  Many employees have endured sexually derogatory comments from him. Store workers must submit a picture along with their applications.

A still from Woody Allen's 1977 film, Annie Hall.These lawsuits are not the only charges against Charney. In 2009, filmmaker Woody Allen won a $5 million lawsuit against the company. Without permission, American Apparel used an image of Allen on various Los Angeles billboards. The shot featured Allen dressed as a Hasidic Jew from the 1977 film, Annie Hall. This offends me as both a woman and a Jew.

“I’m not sorry for expressing myself,” he said. “I wish him the best with his career, and I am looking forward to his next film,” said Charney.

Lohan, seen wearing the "Unisex Flex Fleece Zip Hoody" in speckled gray.
When Lindsay Lohan was photographed passed out in the passenger seat of a car wearing an American Apparel sweatshirt, the company used the image in its promotional materials. The photo not only exploited its subject but also gloried the party lifestyle.

American Apparel displays a clear pattern of disrespect for women. The company positions itself as a socially conscious company but its actions are to the contrary.

What’s the good in a company that prides itself in fair treatment of factory workers but exploits women at every turn?

Some say that highly sexualized American Apparel ads are tongue in cheek- a comment on our society’s obsession with sex.

I say, what good is tongue in cheek if you have to bite your tongue?

For more information, check out these links:

Jezebel’s ongoing coverage of American Apparel

Anti American Apparel

Women’s Rights Boycott

About Sarah James

I am a senior public relations student at Kent State University. I hope to one day work for a nonprofit. I enjoy knitting, writing and biking.
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