Friday, April 20, 2007

american alternative

The last time I was in San Francisco, riding a bus out of the Haight, a group of six high school kids got on behind me. Despite not having been raised with younger siblings, I've gotten used to hanging out with young people. I feel quite comfortable around them.

Sprawled across the seats, this particular group looked just like an American Apparel ad: young, interracial, and apparently high. They were all clad in a colorful set of distinctly AA hoodies and shirts. Giggling, poking, pushing, laughing, they were all oblivious to the rest of us on the bus.

It almost felt voyeuristic, only I was in the ad with them -- wearing the same brand of sweatshirt. That, and I was definitely not high. But one out of two isn't bad.

So with all this lucidity, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. Not just because I was sober, but because I liked American Apparel simply because they manufactured shirts here in the USA. And more importantly, they're not being manufactured in foreign sweatshops (presumably the working conditions here in the States are more humane -- sweatshops suck, where ever they are). All of our reddit shirts have been American Apparel for that very reason, even though it costs us a bit more.

Why is it that I don't know of any other companies doing it? Even mainstream business magazines have reported on American Apparel, so they must be doing well. We even parodied their ads on Gawker with a set of our own.

Seriously though, where's their competition?

Please email me or leave a comment if you know of other companies that are producing clothing here in the USA (or, heck, Canada). I don't have a clue.


Brian said...

It is wrong to assume that all foreign clothing manufacturers are sweatshops. The tone of your article indicates that you think you are doing a good thing (morally) by buying from American Apparel instead of a foreign company due to that assumption.

How would you feel about buying from a foreign company with decent working conditions with reasonable working hours, that was paying decent wages? In my opinion, such a company would be benefiting the world a lot more than American Apparel, because it is raising the standard of living (albeit slowly) in the "Third World." There are many such companies in SE Asia. But, they are usually pretty small shops that cannot afford to market to western companies.

Keep in mind that for 90+% of Thais outside of Bangkok, a job paying $1 per hour for "only" 10 hours a day for "only" 25 days a month would be pretty damn good job (my friends with college degrees here make $0.50 per hour; those without are making about $0.20 an hour). In Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, it would be a GREAT job.

Brian Smith
Chiang Mai, Thailand

guru said...

hey Alexis -- sorry I missed you when you were in town!

AA definitely has competitors. I was working on a t-shrit design for my brother's band, and he found a sweatshop-free company that made some good t-shirts with interesting contrast stitching and more variety of cuts than AA had at the time. Unfortunately I can't remember the name or find it anywhere! I can ask him about it. But the t-shirt business is super competitive and there are definitely people tapping this space, especially now that so many college campuses have banned sweatshop-made chotchkies.

I think there's probably room in a lot of other industries for companies like AA, too. There's even room for offshore companies that are sweatshop-free, in my opinion. But in developing countries, it's up to the company to enforce fair labor standards, and there's often a conflict of interest: shareholders vs. employees. I think the industry needs one of three things: a) more employee-owned companies, b) some kind of certification/oversight process (like "fair trade"--which companies hate paying for unless it's a key piece of their marketing strategy), or c) consensus among ALL of the developing countries to form a treaty against these practices. I believe we'll see some movement on a and b. I have little hope for c happening any time soon...


alexis [kn0thing] said...


I didn't mean to give that impression. I don't doubt that there are clothing manufacturers in the developing world that are treating workers humanely. But I also know that there are others who aren't. The problem for me is that as a consumer in the USA, I can't tell the difference between the two on a sales rack.

I'd have no qualms buying from a foreign company with decent conditions, working hours, and wages (after all, I suggested Canada right? hehe). I just don't know of any that I can buy States-side. My grievance is primarily with the inhumane working conditions -- I realize that a living wage (in dollars) for most of the region looks like a mere pittance compared to even the paltry US minimum wage.

But even after all my complaining, just about everything else I wear -- jeans, shoes -- was made... umm...

*Just look at all the potential new startups!


No worries about missing out. You didn't miss much ;-)

If you can track down the name of that company, I'm down like a clown.

This just seems like one of those rare consumer demands that could be coming from the bleeding hearts as well as the folks who want to see more jobs stay in the country and wanna buy Made in the USA. Call it Patriot Apparel - it'll sell in Wal-Marts throughout the heartland and will be the ironic clothing of choice for NYC bobos.

Hopefully you're right about A) and B) -- although I've read some things about FairTrade Coffee in a book called Starbucked that has given me pause regarding this kind of certification. And as for C)... yeah...


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anon said...

I am torn in my feelings on American Apparel. On the one hand, I love that they don't use sweatshops (that they're made in the USA doesn't bother me, it's the sweatshop issue that's key) and I dig their clothes.

But, Dov Charney's an outright sexist asshole with a misogynist attitude that goes way beyond "irreverence".
See a nice summation with links here

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