Sophia Wu, Assistant to Dov, Los Angeles Dec 17 2014
This letter is in support of the reinstatement of Dov Charney as CEO of American Apparel.
I come from Beijing, China, where I started working for American Apparel as a Sales Associate in April 2010. After 2 years, in April 2012, I was promoted to China Operation Manager, and then moved to Los Angeles in April 2013 to work for the company, and directly with Dov Charney.
Because I worked so closely with Mr. Charney during the company’s most intense period of crisis, and have witnessed firsthand his willingness to sacrifice everything for the good of the company, I would like to relate in some detail what I know.
In 2005, I was living in Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Film School when American Apparel opened its first retail stores there. I fell in love with the brand– the products were simple and basic, mostly comfortable cottons, colorful and creative. It gave me the feeling that I looked chic and special because I was natural, confident and simply beautiful. My dream became to work for this company someday.
When I discovered that American Apparel has opened 2 stores in my hometown Beijing as well as another store in Shanghai, I decided to return to China, and I got my dream job in 2010. I can still remember how excited I was just to start working at an AA store.
Once there, I discovered a lack of communication between China and the US HQ: as the only one on the China side who could speak fluent English, I quickly became the key person to deal with the US. Every Tuesday, I took part in a global conference call, communicating directly with managers in the US to let them know our status and needs in China, and to receive the newest instructions and updates. Most importantly, I was able to speak directly to Mr. Charney– I had never imagined that as an international employee I would have the chance to talk with the CEO of the company I worked for. Gradually I was able to bring the standards of my stores to the same level as those in the US. Under my supervision, the Nali mall store in Beijing became one of the company’s top 3 stores in the world for sales.
The first time I met Mr. Charney was in 2011, while on vacation in the US. Mr. Charney didn’t know me, and so I was very surprised and grateful that he would invite a random Store Manager from China to stay at his big house in Los Angeles. I had not had very much interaction with him, and reading sensationalized stories in the media about his reputation for lasciviousness made me a little bit nervous. But I discovered that Mr. Charney is not like the man portrayed in such stories.
I’m female; I was living in the same house with him for some time. We chatted, we had dinner together, other employees were living in the house as well. He treated me like a kid, and once I got to know him, it felt very safe to stay there, like he was my big brother. Because he is very a successful businessman and a celebrity as well, I started to see where some girls could take advantage of his generosity. After this trip, Mr. Charney got me a work visa to US, because he wanted me be able to travel more easily between the US and China.
In August 2013, I came to Los Angeles to work directly with Mr. Charney as his assistant in the company’s new distribution center in La Mirada. Because of a decision made against Mr. Charney’s wishes by other company executives to move the distribution operation out of American Apparel’s downtown factory to a location 20 miles away, Millions of dollars had been wasted and the company had failed to establish a reliable new system for shipping products to retail stores and wholesale and web customers.
It was an extremely intense situation– Mr. Charney decided the only solution was for him to move into the distribution center and begin to learn firsthand the workings of the new IT programs, sorting machines and time schedules for each region. During a period of 3 months of not only working, but also sleeping nights there, he became a distribution expert. It may seem unbelievable that a CEO would sleep on a single mattress on the floor of a factory for 3 months, but he did.
He built a shower in the restroom. The hot water didn’t work well; he took cold showers for 3 months. Air quality was poor; the distribution center was then very dusty, with few windows and primarily air conditioners. To this day he continues to have a coughing problem as a result. During those 3 months, I didn’t see him go out even once for lunch or dinner: he ate chips and instant macaroni and cheese, frequently working so much that he forgot to eat at all. His entire life was inside that building, walking between the office and the shipping area, working until each problem had been solved and distribution was once again working properly.
If not for Mr. Charney’s efforts, American Apparel would have gone bankrupt. I was there the whole time and know more than anyone how hard he worked– 3 hours sleep everyday for 3 months! During the same period, I saw American Apparel’s then-CFO, John Luttrell, the man originally responsible for the distribution center, visit only one or two times.
After Mr. Charney got the distribution center working properly, sales were going up and the inventories were coming down. The company’s revenues and other metrics started to get back on track. Mr. Charney was looking forward to present good returns and a promising forecast at the board meeting on June 18th. Nothing could have been more shocking than for the Board to demand his dismissal that day. Whatever their supposed reasons, I don’t believe it’s persuasive or convincing to most people.
As the closest person to work with Mr. Charney over the past year, I can state with confidence that no other person would work as hard or could know the company in every single aspect, or be willing to sacrifice his health for it. It makes me incredibly too sad to see Mr. Charney treated in this way.
I believe in Mr. Charney, he is an indomitable spirit, and his life has been committed to the success of American Apparel. He possesses both the creativity and business skills to grow the company. Without him as a CEO, the company won’t be American Apparel any more.
I can’t really say how lucky I feel to have worked alongside Mr. Charney at American Apparel. And I am eager to tell the story I have witnessed, to correct the bad information and misunderstandings, and to tell the truth. Most of my colleagues feel the same way: we love American Apparel, we love our founder, we need him back as the CEO, and we will fight for him.