I am an employee of American Apparel. I am also a woman who has worked and lived with Dov Charney, the Founder and former CEO of American Apparel.
I used to circumvent telling a first date that I worked at American Apparel, not because I was embarrassed of my association with the company, but because I knew I would have to start answering a number of questions. Most of them were not designed to get to know me, my job, or my accomplishments but to quell common curiosities about my boss.
“Does he really walk around the office all day in his underwear?”
“Is he as much of a creep as everyone says he is?”
“Have you ever fucked him?”
I can only speak for myself, but I can say that I have never once felt marginalised, exploited, or unsafe as a young woman under Dov Charney’s supervision.
American Apparel, a company so thoroughly imbued with his spirit, is the only workplace in my career thus far where I have felt none the smaller because of my gender.
Taking a glance at those who make up upper management at American Apparel, I see mostly women at the helm of our wholesale, retail, and creative departments, and throughout those branches, all the way down to the manufacturing and store floors.
Here at American Apparel, being empowered to ascend is based on your talent, hard work, and boldness – not your gender. There’s no old boys’ club here; no glass ceiling to break.
The day after the AGM , I walked down the hall outside our Retail Office at ‘The Factory’, American Apparel’s Headquarters, in Los Angeles and overheard a co-worker say over the phone,
“He’s given me every opportunity in my adult life.”
This is true for a lot of us, whether you are a female, male, or trans-gendered employee at American Apparel.
I started at the company in June of 2008 and over the past 6 years, I have gone from being a part-time sales associate in Toronto to Country Manager for our Australian subsidiary as well as supervising all of our print advertising.
Dov Charney, not only my boss but my mentor, teaches his employees, “You only get what you inspect with respect.” That’s the ethos when it comes to working at American Apparel.
I have witnessed him on countless occasions where he would literally be on the ground, scraping gum off of a sales floor with a set of car keys. Or precariously balanced on a toilet seat with an air compressor nozzle in his hand, aimed into a dust-riddled ceiling vent that needed cleaning.
He can recall every flight pattern we use to ship from our distribution center in Los Angeles to 20 countries all over the world, even when, and how long each leg of the haul takes.
If a product photo is overexposed, he’ll edit it himself and ask the team to replicate the levels. He can put on a t-shirt and feel where it’s an 1/8” off. Schmata is his second skin.
He answers every text, he takes your calls. Yes, from everyone. At any time – seriously.
I mention these traits of Dov to show that this is a CEO who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to caring for his business. To lead by example, to constantly learn and to know the details first-hand. To listen to feedback from his people (regardless of rank) and you, the customer.
To see an entrepreneur dedicate every waking moment to his life’s work is truly motivating.
“Passion, vision, contrarian thinking for the clothing industry.” These are the words emblazoned in our hallways and also the hallmarks of Dov Charney’s being.
If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something then Dov Charney as an “American Apparel expert” takes the cake ten times over.
Many are quick to call the inappropriateness of some of Dov’s eccentricities that from the perspective of those of us who spend hours of every day by his side, is in fact – quite harmless. This is not to say that I do not understand the gravity of some of the allegations others have put forth, but that is not my arena to judge.
I am saying, however, that I am grateful for a workplace – an environment which Dov fostered – where I can be authentic and not discredited. It is important to exemplify that professionalism does not only have one face.
To be honest, I’ve had relationships with co-workers, I rarely wear a bra, and sometimes I make off-color jokes on Twitter. At a company like American Apparel, I’m not afraid that any unconventional actions of mine will mean to others that I’m not excellent at what I do for a living.
There is no work/life balance here. That’s not what I’m trying to achieve. And I don’t think it’s the aim of my generation either.
We want big careers, we want fulfilling lives, and we want to be true to ourselves however we choose to define our days.
Back in my college years, there was a common phrase we threw around: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”
This phrase rings true here at American Apparel, where there is this feeling of being misunderstood by those who have not been employed at the company. But at the same time, there is also this deep bond amongst ourselves thanks to a truly unique experience each one of us have been given – the opportunity to work with the one and the only Dov Charney.
We blur the lines. We are a family. We stick up for our own.
#TeamDov. Now that’s American Apparel.