(overjoyed Fruit of The Loom executives celebrate the end of American Apparel’s stranglehold on indie rock t-shirts)
American Apparel promotes itself as “sweatshop free” and stresses that its products are “made in downtown L.A.,” anomalies in an industry often criticized for outsourcing jobs and paying poverty wages. And consumers are attracted to the company’s reasonably priced T-shirts and underwear, along with its hipster aesthetic of soft-core pornography, which have made Mr. Charney’s business hugely profitable.
According to some former employees, however, sex is used for more than selling clothes at American Apparel. In two separate sexual harassment lawsuits, three plaintiffs who worked on American Apparel’s administrative and sales staffs charge that they endured sexual misconduct and innuendo and an environment in which women did not feel safe.
The culprit, they say, is Mr. Charney, 36, a retailing maverick from Montreal, who founded the company in 1997 and now has 4,500 employees, more than 50 stores in five countries and annual sales of $250 million.
The suits, filed in the last six weeks in Los Angeles Superior Court by a sales manager, a recruiter and a trade show coordinator, accuse Mr. Charney of behavior that ranges from inappropriate to bizarre.
Among the allegations: using crude language and gestures, conducting job interviews in his underwear, ordering the hiring of women in whom he had a sexual interest and giving one of the plaintiffs a vibrator.
In court papers Mr. Charney denied all the allegations. And in an e-mailed statement he said, “In my opinion their lawsuits are a false attempt to extort money from my company and exploit my transparent persona.”
Pat Honda, a customer service manager, said it is not unusual for Mr. Charney to be seen in his underwear in his office because he tries out products before they are introduced. “We’re a manufacturer,” she said. “We make underwear.”
There is little sympathy for the plaintiffs among at least some in the apparel industry. “If you’re seasick, don’t join the Navy,” said Ilse Metchek, the executive director of the California Fashion Association, a trade group Mr. Charney belongs to. “Yes, he’s a bizarre person, but that’s no secret,” she said. “It’s there for you to see when you sign on for this opportunity.”
“I couldn’t work there, but I wouldn’t even apply,” she added. “Why would I presume to change the work habits of the owner of a private company. Does the name ‘Hooters’ say anything to you?”
Yes, as a matter of fact . Besides, y’know, terrible wings.