There’s something about the American Apparel business model that has us captivated, hooked. Perhaps its because their basics emulate Alexander Wang at a fraction of the cost, or because where else would you find nylon disco pants in approximately 547 different colours? One thing’s for sure, it’s because it makes us feel good – not just in the literal sense, but ethically as consumers. There’s something about knowing that the clothes on your back were “Made in Downtown LA” and “Sweatshop Free” that in return, earns our loyalty and our trust in American Apparel.
There’s comfort in knowing that workers are being treated fairly, paid adequately and operating in safe and humane conditions, because anything otherwise is exploitation, right? We only have to look at the boycotting of corporations who shamelessly use sweatshops as their main source of mass production. It’s in this light that American Apparel have built themselves as seemingly indestructible force to be reckoned with – the ethical alternative. It’s here that we don’t feel the need to delve beneath the surface to affirm our conscience about what goes on on the cutting room floor. In fact, it’s on the surface that American Apparel’s ethics take a slightly sinister turn.
If you’re not familiar with American Apparel’s ads, allow me to summarise: young females wearing little-to-no clothing posing in overtly sexual positions.
It’s nothing to do with female nudity or the models featured in the photographs. Rather, there’s something incredibly disturbing about the way women are depicted in these campaigns – young, virginal and hyper-sexualised. It doesn’t help that Dov Charney, former CEO of the company has been embroiled in allegations of sexual harrassment against his employees, one of which claims she was kept in his apartment as a sex slave.
Contrary to the ethos of American Apparel, exploitation is an intrinsic component of their business model. Granted, the sexualisation of young women is rife through the entire industry and is one of the most important ethical issues that designers, editors and photographers desperately need to address in the near future. What’s worrisome here is that brands like American Apparel yield great power in influencing public perception. Yes, concepts of virginal beauty and female sexuality are being used as marketing tools that literally commodify women, but we quickly turn our heads away to look at the bigger, bolder advertisement – one which depicts an ethically superior model of political activism and economic equality. Think about it. Suddenly those cozy basics don’t feel so good anymore.
Supporting companies who create sustainable jobs for workers with fair pay and working conditions is not desirable, it’s essential. So is the need for the fashion industry to stop sexualising the bodies of young women. Exploitation extends beyond sweatshops to what is hidden in plain sight.
(Photos via American Apparel)