Last week, I wrote a post defending American Apparel against its many haters in the media, especially Gawker (sorry, Hamilton Nolan! Please ignore!). I pointed out that AA has fair, progressive labor practices in its L.A. factory and that their hiring policies and dress code aren’t unusual for a retail company. I also noted that CEO Dov Charney’s sexual harassment allegations are something negative the media could focus on, if they were trying to focus on negative things.
The company contacted me, saying they wanted to talk. That afternoon, I got a call from Charney. What follows is our conversation.
Dov Charney: I thought your article was an intelligent assessment. Gawker’s exploiting their position as a satirical website — they should be using their power to effect social change. There’s a failure of government to clean up its act with regard to the immigration battle. NGOs and political forces supported Obama over Hillary — Hillary had promised to legalize falsely documented workers in her first 100 days; Obama said his first year, and nothing’s happened. American Apparel is based in L.A., where there are 2 million falsely documented workers. A big portion of our workers are falsely documented. Up to 90 percent of applicants for our factory are falsely documented. Why is American Apparel so supportive of social justice? Because since the Bush, no, Clinton administration, we’ve criminalized working-class people. A large segment of our working-class people don’t have liberties. The government is anti-L.A., anti-city.
Gawker doesn’t realize the social impact of what it’s doing. Even the New York Times took the side of American Apparel.
How do you feel about Gawker?
Charney: They’re running a mock campaign of something that’s accessible to them. They’re targeting upwardly mobile, metropolitan young adults, and our brand is in that arena. And you’re trapped, too! You have guilty hands! You’re a creep!
I called you creepy because of the [legion] sexual harassment allegations against you. Is there any truth to them?
Charney: The sexual harassment accusations were the manifestation of a racketeering attorney [Keith Fink] who works with journalists. He feeds the media sensational stories that will grab attention. I’m accusing him of criminal racketeering.
So the sexual harassment accusations aren’t founded?
Charney: Absolutely not. You’re a fool to think that. You and Gawker are part of an ongoing campaign of self-interest. Gawker wants people to read their posts. Go look at yourself in the mirror. It’s cheap journalism. It wouldn’t be as exciting if this was a story about Zales. There’s a catharsis you should all go through. This is a fake crusade, an entire media campaign since 2005 initiated by an attorney who wanted money. No one has the balls to remove him from the system. It’s one fake case after the next.
There’s a high level of intelligence behind the business. We’re marketing well and hiring people who know how to speak to the essence of the brand — or at least we’re making efforts to. Could Larry King show up to his job with a septum ring? We’re trying to cast the right people for the store. We have room for a lot of exception and variety. That’s somehow unethical? We regulate the taste in our store. Gawker’s coverage of the issue has not done justice to the social issues at hand. The media has choices.
Charney: You’re a creep! It’s false testimony. There’s no credibility to that statement — I don’t feel that I’m a creep. You can’t defend it. Neither can Gawker. It’s not good for society. Martin Luther King was having affairs, but his work was too important so the media didn’t bring it up. They’re deploying sexual shame tactics — it dehumanizes the subject. Ideas are more important. I accuse you of being a creep. A large number of the plaintiffs stole from the company, or we had valid reason to want to remove them. If I’m a creep, they’re creeps. Provocative ad campaigns make sense. Who cares?
Why do you care so much about negative media portrayals of you as an individual if it’s your work and ideas that are important?
Charney: Because their descriptions are divisive. It hurts the mission of the company. Opportunities of the company have been impaired by all this noise. I’m not saying Gawker is not within their rights, I’m saying it’s about responsibility and ethics.
Other major retailers have moved everything offshore. Check the number of retailers that Gawker has written about, and then check the number of stories about AA. It’s socially irresponsible. It’s called “fucking people.” It’s false testimony.
Gawker published altered emails and emails that were out of context, and they were meant to be private. They were emails among low-level managers. By focusing on something that’s real, you could achieve social justice. How creepy is it that major brands hire kids 15 to 16 years old who don’t have a day off for 30 days straight and make 30 cents an hour?
I haven’t criticized your labor policies, I was just referring to the sexual harassment allegations in my piece.
Charney: Even if you dissect the accusations — as if you wanna pretend that adults don’t use sexual banter! They’re trying to cast it as shameful. The line is thick between sexual banter and sexual harassment. It’s a very solid line and context is important.
We don’t think that firing is unethical. We think it’s acceptable. We’ve agreed as a society that we have employees at will — we can fire anyone for any reason besides discrimination. We deploy good ethics at all times. We’re not exploiting people.
Journalists are in collusion with one or two plaintiff lawyers. Who’s the victim if I can’t finance my business? Shareholders? Workers? They’re writing crap to get $300 for a blog post. There’s a hysteria in the community that separates itself from reality. Gawker can play an important role in using satire and humor. It’s morally reckless on their part to put out random stories with altered or fictitious emails, or to take one person’s opinion and cast it as the opinions of many. It was like 12 emails from a group of 5,000 retail workers. I think it’s creepy. I’ve invited them to come to the factory and talk to the workers.
American Apparel has a human face. We’ve humanized the manufacturing process. We don’t have an assembly line, we use team manufacturing. We’re being mocked for being transparent and open. I’m accessible to workers and stores. People are happy at American Apparel. I’m being attacked for my integrity. That an individual said something is not good enough. Claims that could have been made in self-interest should be dealt with in a suspicious manner. It’s too easy to be a victim when you’ve been fired or terminated or are about to be terminated.