Updated March 27, 2015. This story originally aired Jan. 20, 2014.
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.
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