Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chatting with Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel

Two days ago Gawker acquired an email from American Apparel referencing standards for personal appearance for its retailers, down to specifics like outlawing liquid foundation and nixing bleached eyebrows. This, combined with the past heat the company has faced over refusing to manufacture sizes that the general population wears, created a storm that would not quietly pass over. Instead, CEO Dov Charney made his private phone number available to the media and concerned customers. He was personally answering the phone all day yesterday, and spoke to me around 3:00 p.m. Central time.

Charney responded to Gawker’s leaked email in a statement on American Apparel’s website. The statement appears below.

American Apparel does not hire or retain applicants based on 'beauty.' Our main priority is finding people with a strong sense of style who can inspire customers as they make selections from our extensive line. This is an integral part of the job, and we look for people who will enjoy it as a creative outlet. It has never been the policy of American Apparel, as some blogs claim, to fire employees who are not "good looking" or any of the other accusations implied by the anonymous or unverified third party sources. The company legitimately reviews current photographs of job applicants and employees to consider their sense of style and the way in which they present themselves. Through personal interviews, we evaluate whether they possess the skills and personality required to successfully sell our products. This is a standard practice among fashion-forward retailers.

American Apparel has built itself on being open and honest, so we're happy to answer questions and personally address the concerns of anyone interested in having a dialog. You can reach our CEO directly at 213-923-7943 or at And to address what has been most lost in this discussion, American Apparel is in fact continuing to hire in a major way (over 1,000 factory workers in recent weeks alone and hundreds more for retail internationally). We always accept resumes, and of course photos showing your personal style, either online or at one of our open calls worldwide.

The numbers seemed high to me considering the state of the economy. Charney differentiated between the 1,000 factory workers hired in the past 60 days and retail workers – the 1,000 workers hired in the past 60 days were on the industrial side. The company is still able to hire retail workers because of the high turnover rate that most retail outlets experience. He did not attribute any retail workers leaving their jobs to the email revealed by Gawker. American Apparel employs about 5,500 retail workers in 280 stores, half of which are in the US, and another 5,500 industrial workers worldwide. The CEO stressed that American Apparel is a growing company.

Still, advertising and answering your personal phone line for the general public is a ballsy move. Was there one final straw that made Charney propose this solution? He said he doesn’t remember exactly how it came about, but that Gawker took the controversy further than necessary. The specifics that Gawker published in its “leaked” email were untrue, according to Charney. There is no company policy forbidding liquid foundation or bleached eyebrows. If there were a policy about this type of thing at all, Charney said, he would ban perfume on the retail workers – which has nothing to do with appearance, technically. As of now, there are no such policies in place, and the company is not considering them.

Instead, Charney emphasized that the overall – sometimes indefinable aspects of -- appearance of his employees has a direct effect on his business, and American Apparel is within its rights to expect a certain dress code and professional aesthetic, just like almost every other company in operation. Appearance plays a role, and people want to pretend it's all about physicality because that makes a more inflammatory story, but in this case, it's not.

When I asked if the company was worried about lawsuits from fired employees or those who were never hired because of their appearances, he balked. Employment lawsuits only succeed when a protected class – gender, race, religion – has been discriminated against. Charney’s correct on that point of law, and the Abercrombie & Fitch situation from a few years back is a salient, but ultimately off-base, comparison. A&F hired models to work in the front and put others in the back, constructively discriminating against racial minorities. AA’s situation is nothing like that.

But what about ageism? Would a perfectly good employee be fired after years of service when their appearance could no longer keep up with American Apparel’s youthful image? Charney dodged that question, partially because the company itself is young and the issue hasn’t come up yet. It might be an issue AA should address in the future, however.

It takes a lot of confidence in your customers and employees to open up your personal phone line, and Charney's move was refreshing considering most CEOs are insulated from lower level controversies. I will say that after speaking with Charney, I’m satisfied that he cares about more than just the bottom line of his company. He seems to be involved at most steps, and is making the effort to calm the concerns of whoever wants to dial his line and speak with the CEO of American Apparel. Charney said he’s had the same number for 12 years and has no plans of changing it. So if you have a gripe, constructive criticism, or just want to speak to the CEO of your favorite retail outlet, he can be reached at 213-923-7934.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I used to be a little, well, intense. Uptight. Uptense.

That’s not really a surprise coming from the girl who wrote the grammar book. I played basketball most of my life, and I had a good -- methodical, reliable -- shot. Give me a play and I could run it perfectly, brush by the screen, peel off and hit my shot. Too bad most of the game – or life – doesn’t unfold according to the play. There are more variables than can be addressed by any one play.

In the past few years, though, I've relaxed some as I learned something important. With a lot of things in life, giving up a little control can lead to a better experience. Traveling is one example: you don’t get story-worthy experiences if you stick too closely to the plan. It’s the twists in the road -- the unexpected detours, the times when the Mykonos hostel was overbooked and you ended up sleeping on the beach, or you missed your flight and went walking and met the French family next door who entertained you for hours -- that are worth writing about. The trip isn't ruined by those things.

The same principle is also true with things like dancing, or riding passenger on a motorcycle. Risk looking stupid in public; if you’ve already decided to get on, trust the driver. Lean into the curves, and you’ll have a better ride.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

Daring Greatly

It's time I did a post on graduation, huh?

The law school's graduation ceremony was a few weeks ago, and it ended up being a bittersweet experience. When I was writing the grammar book during 1L, the law school was kind enough to let me drop a few classes. I'm taking summer classes to make up those hours, so graduation wasn't the grand finale of my law school career. However, it was symbolic and meaningful, and a wonderful chance to celebrate with the people I care about.

Our valedictorian focused his speech on different, mostly funny, memories of our time here. He mentioned (my very favorite Talladega native) Reid Carpenter's "trick balloonist" comment from Prof. Randall's Torts class. To those who weren't there, ask me to explain it in person. It was a highlight of 1L year.

Jan Crawford, who is the chief legal correspondent for CBS News, served as our commencement speaker. She went to UA for her undergraduate degree and went on to get her JD in Chicago, and because she's basically doing my dream job it was a sort of validation of my career choices up until this point. More than that though, she was thoughtful and inspiring. She thanked the families who were at the ceremony, because without them (or all the other supportive people in our lives) there's no way all of us would have made it through law school.

Her speech focused on this quote by Teddy Roosevelt (or -- you know -- his writers. Just giving the writers some credit!):
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
[Formatting and emphasis mine.]

To me, the most poignant part of the quotation is the "daring greatly" point. I understand that writing a blog is not "daring greatly" in the same sense that fighting wars, or running with the bulls, or risking your heart on a Great Love is. But I do sincerely feel that I've taken chances, learned lessons, and even lived in a better and greater way by sharing my writing on this platform.

If you read the comments, you know I have many critics. Anyone who's worked hard on something can empathize with the vulnerable feeling that rises up every time writers let someone else read a piece of work -- by sharing it with a friend or by turning it in to a boss or by simply clicking "publish." But along with the critics are many, many loving and supportive people who have encouraged and mentored me along this process. I'm not saying goodbye to blogging, and I'm certainly not abandoning writing. I don't know what the next phase of life will hold, but I can say a couple of things.

I hope I'm good at my job. I hope I can pay my bills! I hope I live by the water. I hope the locals will tolerate my dancing. I hope I get to keep writing. I hope I'll be lucky enough to continue to know wonderful people.

I hope it requires daring greatly.