American Apparel CEO Dov Charney on pushing boundaries and his biggest weakness


  • Photo 1 of 10

    American Apparel founder and CEO Dov Charney.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 2 of 10

    The American Apparel factory and warehouse, located in downtown L.A.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 3 of 10

    The entrance of American Apparel's factory.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 4 of 10

    An assortment of American Apparel's billboards around the country.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 5 of 10

    An assortment of American Apparel watches.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 6 of 10

    Posters hung on the sewing room floor. 

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 7 of 10

    The sewing room floor.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 8 of 10

    "We're not politically correct, but we have good ethics."

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 9 of 10

    American Apparel CEO and Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace

  • Photo 10 of 10

    Marketplace engineer Bill Lancz has his American Apparel hoodie re-stitched by a seamstress.

    - Raghu Manavalan/Marketplace
Clothing company American Apparel is known for making their products in the U.S. and for paying their employees more than minimum wage. It's also known for eccentric CEO Dov Charney:
 
 
 
On pushing boundaries
 “It’s important that every generation, there are going to be certain people that push boundaries. And those are my people."
 
On using sex to sell clothes
“Sex is inextricably linked to fashion and apparel. And it has been and always will be. And our clothing is connected to our sexual expression so of course, advertising related to clothing, there’s going to be a sexual connection forever, whether it’s Calvin Klein, American Apparel, or brands we haven’t even contemplated."
 
Kai Ryssdal: Do you ever look at one of your billboards and go: Whoa, alright wait, we went too far?
Dov Charney: Absolutely.

KR: And then what do you do?

DC: We put up another one.
 
On the importance of Made-in-USA
“I don’t think it’s very important to the customer and I’m glad that it’s not.” He clarifies that the "made in LA" aspect of the brand “brings flavor and it should also call attention to the fact that we make the merchandise ourselves which is very important.”
 
On his biggest weakness
“My biggest weakness is me. I mean, lock me up already! It’s obvious! Put me in a cage, I’ll be fine. I’m my own worst enemy. But what can you do—I was born strange.”
 
 
 

 

Inside American Apparel's factory      
Charney opened his first retail store in 2004, in Los Angeles. The bulk of American Apparel manufacturing happens in an immense warehouse in the city's downtown district. Employees from all departments work together out of the bright pink building. "We have sellers,  marketers, photographers, computer programmers, IT experts, production, product design, scheduling, forecasting, retail development, everybody is connected to this building," Charney says.
 
The last few years have been financially difficult for the company. "Right now, we’re retrenching a little bit because it’s unclear what the future of bricks and mortar retail is," says Charney. He has plans to build up the company's presence online and to expand the business in the future.
 
Charney's no stranger to personal difficulties as well. He's faced several sexual harassment lawsuits from past employees, most of which have been dropped. He's also faced criticism for the sexual images American Apparel uses on billboards that promote the brand.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...