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January 31: Sweatshop-Free but Stained

Lawrence Bush
January 31, 2017
Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel, a trend-spotting clothing company that pioneered a “Made in the USA,” sweatshop-free model of manufacturing, was born in Montreal on this date in 1969. Charney founded his brand in 1991, paid his factory workers between $13 and $18 per hour, and offered them low-cost, full-family healthcare -- benefits that far exceed industry standards. Soon enough (thanks in large part to its very sexual advertising campaigns), American Apparel was the largest garment manufacturer still producing clothing in America. In 2003, the company opened its own stores in Montreal, New York and L.A., and by 2005, revenue exceeded $200 million. American Apparel also promoted a progressive immigration reform campaign, beginning in 2004, featuring national advertisements and t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Legalize LA.” Proceeds from the sale of the shirts were donated to immigration reform advocacy groups. Another line of t-shirts said “Legalize Gay” after California voters banned same-sex marriage in 2008. Charney’s career, however, has been plagued by a series of charges of sexual harassment by employees -- all of which he has denied, most of which the company settled. Scandal led to his dismissal as CEO of his company in 2014, a year in which sales exceeded $600 million. Today he runs a new t-shirt company, “That’s Los Angeles, by Dov Charney.” “For years, he was the crown prince of the sexiest fashion company in America. He socialized with the hedge fund executives who funded his company. . . . His marketing budget was one of the largest in the retail-apparel business. His ads made headlines because they used ordinary women instead of professional models, and because they walked the line in terms of nudity. His girlfriends were the women in those ads, and many of them were decades younger. . . . Some of Charney’s biggest defenders within the company are women. They regarded the plaintiffs as cynically taking advantage of consensual relations with Charney . . .” --Business Insider

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.