Perhaps you are familiar with American Apparel. Quick run-down: The clothes have a classic ’80s vibe; they’re all solid colors, with no logos; and they’re all produced at a factory in Los Angeles, by workers making a fair wage with solid benefits. That LA facility is actually the biggest garment factory in the entire United States. Business is booming.
However, AA founder and CEO Dov Charney is freaky.
That probably wouldn’t matter much, except that it finds concrete expression in AA’s business: The stores are tiled with old porn magazines. The NYT’s Alex Kuczynski thinks that’s creepy, and I do too.
It’s just so bizarre, you know? Every other aspect of the entire operation is so straight-edge and socially responsible. And then there’s porn hanging above the dressing rooms.
Anyway, whatever. As weird as it is, it’s not enough to kill off my fascination with the company and what it’s managed to do.
This ties into a documentary I saw recently called The Take. Without going into excruciating detail, it was about workers in Argentina who rallied around a new business model when hard-core international capitalism failed them. And it’s like, yeah: There are other ways to run cagey, competitive businesses. We can invent new models.
And I love it when these new models get applied to stuff that’s very “heavy.” I mean, there’s a co-op bakery in my neighborhood, and it’s really great, but, whatever, it’s a bakery.
In contrast: The focus of The Take was a foundry. It dealt in molten metal. And of course American Apparel is very industrial — the company can crank out a million t-shirts a week. That’s big stuff, both practically and poetically: Textiles and garments have been at the center of industrialization and labor for, well, forever.
So, I’m curious: What other industry is ripe for an agile new entrant, a la American Apparel? Except without the porn this time?