Dear American Apparel: I am done with you

Over the past couple of decades, clothing has become a guilt-laden symbol of over-consumption, exploitation, and disposable culture: in our collective quest for the cheapest possible fashion, we are responsible for mounting pressures on clothing companies to cut costs and speed up production times, leading to ‘outsourcing’ to garment factories that promise the fastest turn-around time and lowest cost. This means a once-thriving garment manufacturing sector here in North America has all but disappeared (80% of garment manufacturing jobs in Canada have disappeared since 2001), and factories in developing countries like China and Bangladesh are forcing workers to accept extremely low wages to work in appalling conditions for long hours. The garment industry is notorious for treating workers almost like slaves, often locking them into the factory (sometimes causing hundreds to die in fires that they could not escape from), not allowing bathroom or meal breaks, and threatening workers if they complain publicly.  No doubt you’ve heard of the most recent garment factory disaster at the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, detailed here in the Toronto Star and here in the New York Times.  So of course I am delighted to support companies like Second Denim, which manufactures clothes in Canada, and American Apparel, whose business model incorporates paying Americans a good living wage to manufacture their clothes, and, according to their website, is committed to environmental sustainability. While I’m not a huge fan of much of AA’s designs (I already lived through the 80s once and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to wear those high-waisted, super-baggy, big-shouldered fashions ever again), my husband and I tend to purchase a lot of our basics there, like t-shirts, leggings, etc. Or, I should say, we USED to buy stuff at American Apparel.

American Apparel, I am officially done with you.

You see, I can’t support a company that, on one hand, is against exploiting workers (a stance I strongly support), and on the other hand, is quite happy to exploit women (which is abhorrent to me). American Apparel has courted controversy for quite a while now because of its ads that often depict very young women in overtly sexual poses, a controversy which has most recently flared up in Sweden. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned AA’s ads for being “gratuitous…exploitative, and pornographic” (http://www.businessinsider.com/these-gratuitous-american-apparel-ads-were-just-banned-in-the-uk-2012-4), and the list of controversies goes on.

I was going to include an example of the ads but even just copying one here in my blog for the purpose of criticism made me feel icky. So go check them out yourself at the links above. Or you can check out this article from Business Insider in which the same unisex item of clothing is shown depicted on men and women, and the difference is shocking.

American Apparel, your willful ignorance about the ramifications of sexual exploitation of women is hypocritical given your apparent understanding of why exploiting garment workers is unacceptable. Unless and until you stop treating women as sexual objects, I’m not buying another thing from you.

And by the way, American Apparel, damn you for almost being everything an informed, intelligent, concerned consumer wants in a retail store, but fucking it up so badly by deliberately promoting a pile of sexist, exploitative bullshit. Somehow that makes you even worse than a retailer that just doesn’t give a shit about any of it in the first place.

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