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August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

So Cool… Yet So Creepy


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?

June 14, 2005 / Uncategorized


Erica says…

That’s a great question Robin! Hmm, lets see..I think the rising tide of the green economy has a lot of promise in that capacity. I could imagine countless buisnesses that while providing crucial non-toxic, energy-efficient, socially relevant services and products, the buisness models are based on one where workers collectively contribute and profit from the shared ingenuity of that buisness. I think thats a real exciting prospect, and TOTALLY ACHEIVABLE. Whether the buisness plan include molten lava, baked bread, or chic clothes, it can be..oh, i mean, it MUST be implemented in a way that integrates our life sustaining needs such as environment, health, family, culture, self worth etc…oh, and without keeping the huge majority of people on the planet locked into poverty (the way it is set up now..) Sorry for my very long sentences…

Erica says…

Oh, one more thing..a great example of this notion is brilliantly elaborated in this book, Bronx Ecology by Allen Hershkowitz…



Not going to happen any time soon, but it has to eventually.

“It dealt in molten metal.

This totally cracked me up.

Score one more victory for the free market.

Greg B says…

What’s wrong with a bakery? Isn’t food fundamental to how we live? Would you rather have a molten metal foundry be collectivized, and your evening meal provided by a huge agro-industrial conglomeration… Or vice versa?

It sounds like what you’re excited about is new business models where BIG business is done in a radically different way. But even if Google and Yahoo were collectivized, they could still decide to take us on the EPIC path, no?

(I’m not necessarily “small is better” – I just don’t like to see my local community bakery blown off and Porn-O-Tee hailed as an innovative biz model. ;-))

Heh heh… you’re right, Greg, I shouldn’t have dissed bakeries.

I guess it just seems to me that it’s EASIER to start a company like a bakery as a co-op because it’s not that capital-intensive. That’s also why I’m not surprised that open-source and other collective-ish projects have flourished online: It’s all human and intellectual capital, no need for big heavy physical STUFF.

But there are no open-source microchip plants, no worker-owned PC manufacturers. And I suspect it’s because those things are so capital-intensive in the classical sense.

In the movie I talked about, the workers were able to collectivize their factories because all the gear was already there — it had already been bought.

If those guys had wanted to start up a big factory on their own, from scratch? Forget it. No way.

So I’m interested in knowing how that might happen. Starting a co-op bakery, I get. Starting a co-op car manufacturer? Now THAT is a mystery.

Greg makes a good larger point because our food growth is surprisingly industrial. You hear about this a lot in the discussion of Post Peak-Oil Problems. . .how running out of oil will actually affect even the food we eat, (See this Bellman Post for example,) and how biodiesel seems sort of pie-in-the-sky when you take into account the amount of oil that is used to farm. I’m somewhat hopeful on this fault b/c you can actually get a lot of yield organically (i.e. not using fossil fuel based fertilizers), etc. Many of the agricultural advances of the last 100 years are actually in parallel to other advances and not related; they just have to do with a better understanding of soil and plant biology. But American food is a heavily industrial sector, a massive tangle of labor and environmental issues.

You’re the economist, Robin, but I do wonder how and if all this collective intellecutal capital, and perhaps more importantly, organizational capital, can be in turn used to rework the necessity of large pools of physical and monetary capital.

feh says…

The whole porn thing is overhyped. We’re talking 70’s era Playboys – today’s average Maxim or Stuff magazine is racier and without the really, really excellent articles. And most stores don’t display old Playboys or Oui magazines. But yes, in all other respects Dov Charney has created a revolutionary company. And really, really fantastic t-shirts. I am an old fart and not at all part of their target demographic but I was totally sold on the concept after my wife caressed an American Apparel t-shirt I was wearing and commented on how soft it was. I never got that sort of attention wearing a Hanes Beffy-T. I am now a loyal customer!

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