How will we love/hate American Apparel now?

A former coworker of the clothing brand’s freshly ousted CEO Dov Charney tells us about her time with the controversial Montreal creepster.


Dov Charney

If you’ve worked in the retail industry in this city, chances are you’ve heard some crazy stories about Dov Charney, the Montrealer who founded American Apparel. And you’ve undoubtedly seen his controversial ads for the brand, which have made headlines around the world.

Now Charney himself is in the headlines (again), as American Apparel Inc. announced on Wednesday that they’re suspending him as CEO and intend on firing him for “alleged misconduct.” No one is really surprised by this news except perhaps for Charney himself.

Despite the controversy out there (including alleged “misuse of funds,” ie. fraud), it’s hard to ignore the success he has achieved for the brand. In 2004, he was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young for his efforts in manufacturing sweatshop-free clothing and providing excellent working conditions for factory employees.

“Dov did not base the majority of his [company’s focus] on his retail workers, he based it on his factory workers,” says a former district manager for American Apparel, who worked closely with Charney. “In 2008 when there was a raid in the L.A. factory, I was working with him in Montreal and he was extremely stressed and visibly upset by the fact that he lost about 800 workers who didn’t have proper immigration papers. And not because he lost workers in his factory but because he had given these people jobs, and they could never get jobs anywhere else, and he gave them fare wages. I spent a lot of time in the L.A. factory myself. They had set up Medicare for them, hot meals, massages and started at a wage that was almost triple what other companies paid in L.A.”

On the flipside, Charney has a history of tainting the brand by attracting bad press with his personal and professional behaviour, with multiple sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him by former employees (all of which he’s successfully fought off), the promotion of infamous graphic ad campaigns that demean women, not to mention the company’s failure to turn a profit since 2009, all under his leadership.

The same (young female) source quoted earlier told us that she, personally, never had any issues with AA’s CEO. “I was never harassed by him, or approached aggressively by him. If you’re not interested in cultivating a personal or sexual relationship with Dov, he is not interested in doing it with you either,” she says.

From a customer’s perspective though, a relationship with American Apparel and its creator is cultivated from the moment you’re introduced to the brand. It’s hard to ignore that fully naked chick, on her back, legs open, modelling the socks you’re about to buy. It’s as if you’ve entered the perverse mind of Dov Charney, but given the quality of the products and the sweatshop-free practices, it’s easy to develop love-hate feelings for the brand.

How this will change now that Charney is gone remains to be seen. But it’s also being reported that the company’s stock has soared since his firing. ■