Brand report: Does American Apparel still suck?
Neat update: This post has been additionally published to #FITKNOWSNOSIZE.
- Is American Apparel more size-inclusive?
- Are they less skeevy now that the walking lawsuit CEO has been replaced with a woman?
- Are their factory workers happy?
- Are they as ethical and sustainable as they claim?
TL;DR? Scroll to the "CONCLUSION" section below for the snapshot.
It's not just because their ex-CEO and their ads represent raging cases of misogyny and sexism in the workplace. That's years-old news by now. It's not because they may be stretching the whole "our models are often employees and friends, not professional models" thing. Or because they've been accused of tolerating racist and sexist behavior by employees and ex-CEO Dov Charney (who also allegedly demanded that all "ugly" people get fired). It's not even because the company has been accused of being a cult. No doubt, American Apparel's history is so ugly, it would have to fire itself. As much as American Apparel's abysmal internal issues have been outed in the media and the courtrooms, the biggest problem the company faces today is all of the stuff we still don't know.
Times have changed since American Apparel's board grew some huevos and ousted their embarrassment of a founder (and then replaced him with a woman — good move) and updated their ethics code — and I was inclined this afternoon to give American Apparel another go as I strolled through the mall. I know they're struggling after filing bankruptcy, and I'm all about their whole "Made sweatshop-free in the USA" ethos. A few years ago, they had a model search for their new plus size line (which was also quite controversial), so I thought maybe they'd have something cute and ethical in a 1X I could pick up. Plus, I need some new undies. I never pack enough when I travel. I'm a flawed human.
Anyway, the answer is no, American Apparel does not carry plus sizes in their stores, they just carry a few items in XL — and girl you know their women's sizing runs small on most designs.
Nevertheless, I tried on a pair of black size XL disco pants on my size 16 booty in the store and fell in love when they fit, because I have wanted a pair of black disco pants ever since I was five and hoped to one day be the made-over Sandy to some hot Danny Zuko. Hurray!
I made the nice sales rep laugh with some fat girl jokes and then headed triumphantly to the register where a far less cheery rep rung me up. Then I went home and hopped on the American Apparel website to see what they actually carry in plus sizes, because for those unfamiliar, there are many brands who only offer their plus size items online (boo, this practice sucks).
And again, no, American Apparel does not offer clothing for plus size shoppers. In retrospect, I don't understand why they ever even decided to have that dumb plus size model search in the first place when their size XL disco pants could easily fit a size 10-12 woman, so an AA XL is not really plus size, just because I can also stretch it over my size 16 ass. There's nothing indicating that AA really wants a person of my size in their stores.
OK, BUT IS THAT ALL?
No, I have thicker (fatter) skin than that, people. My research also shows a few problems with what they print on their tags where ethics are concerned.
THEY DON'T SHOW THEIR WORK, AND THAT'S WEIRD.
It's one thing to say that you're an ethical and/or sustainable company; it's another thing to prove how you're doing it. Unfortunately, given that AA has a history of hiding and outright lying about big problems (like firing 1,800 undocumented workers and even fudging numbers), it seems like the orgs out there who assess companies like AA don't seem to quite know what to make of the company.
From Project Just:
We don’t have information about how they deal with: child labour, abolition of forced or compulsory labour, freedom of association, rights to collective bargaining, the prohibition of regular excessive overtime, freedom of movement, prohibition of recruitment fees, right to leave/enter work voluntarily, non-interference towards trade unions.
The brand doesn’t communicate where the raw material (example: cotton) comes from.
As of 2014, the brand communicates that it is virtually landfill free. We are unsure about how they are measuring this.
Interestingly, the 2016 Australian Fashion Report, a report released by Baptist World Aid Australia that aims to "sheds light on what the industry and individual companies are doing to address forced labour, child labour and exploitation," gives American Apparel an overall grade of B-. Compare that to mega brands like adidas and Reebok which both received an A- from the same report, and it's a little, well, surprising.
RankaBrand, "an international community of responsible consumers" grades American Apparel at D — mainly because of a lack of disclosure or clarity on how they're really doing things.
Plus, there's the whole thing about American Apparel's factory workers calling for a boycott of the brand, with some workers claiming to earn as little as $250 a week since the new CEO Paula Schneider joined the company — a sharp difference from the claims that "an experienced American Apparel garment worker can earn $30,000+." Times may be lean, but if someone is earning $250/week in Los Angeles, they'd better be part-time.
Sizing issues aside, checkered past aside, we just don't know what we don't know about the company that prints "Sweatshop free" on their tags, and that's pretty frustrating when we're talking about LA's biggest garment factory. You'd think that a brand that was built on ethics but suffered from a lack of it in leadership would jump on every chance at this point to tout its sustainable sourcing, ethics enforcement and worker rights prioritization.
Compared to companies like Patagonia who are openly committed to good practices and transparent about just about everything, it seems a bit strange that American Apparel is keeping so much a secret – especially when the future of the company is so, so uncertain.
Does American Apparel still suck?" is an emphatic "maybe."
What I know for sure:
- They're not size-inclusive.
- They're not transparent.
- They're not keeping their workers very happy.
- They do have great disco pants.
- BONUS WEIRDNESS: The brand built on "Made in USA" may move overseas.
So, who's doing better? You know I won't leave you hanging on this answer for long :).