The American (Apparel) World View.
I always laughed when people said they had an issue with the way American Apparel advertise. The overly skinny girls who are more than happy to get their nipples out for a modelling job with one of the world’s more exclusive brands. And not exclusive in the way Louis Vuitton or Vivienne Westwood are but in a way that they want skinny, beautiful people only to be seen wearing their apparel. Now I completely understand what those people were talking about. That this isn’t just a brand they are making, but an image. An image designed to fit only the absurdly skinny and unconventionally pretty.
I will always remember what I bought with my first pay check at my first job. A German shirt with Podolski on the back and the other was a pair of socks from American Apparel.
It was 2007. I’d bought the Germany shirt of the previous football World Cup with “Podolski 20” on the back. If you’ve read another of my blog’s you will know how much of a keen football fan/stash collector I am. This was (and still partly is) my pride and joy, having seen this young man play exceptionally well at Koln and had followed his career specifically for a while.
But the socks.
I’d been looking around forever for a pair of tube socks with three coloured stripes on the top. Naïve young me thought that they were Adidas (another longstanding brand relationship I have a certain love affair with) but no, they were not. I’d been given tee shirts as presents before that bore the “American Apparel” label – one with my favourite fictional character’s name on it courtesy of Café Press, others with anti-George W. Bush slogans on (due to my new found love of politics) and the like. But researching these tube socks was the first time I’d taken notice of the brand. And I liked what I saw. On a personal level, I like the same product, in different colours. Taste wise, I am the perfect American Apparel customer.
Some five years later and I’m happy to disclose parts of my wardrobe here. All my vests – American Apparel. My plain tee shirts – American Apparel. I own 10 different colours of the standard American Apparel hoodie with the white string cord. 10. I will say that unless I have to wear specific sports socks – the only socks I do wear are American Apparel.
I have been caught in the consumer web.
But now my attitude towards the brand has significantly shifted.
In my current state of work, that is to say I am one of many thousands of unemployed graduates currently twiddling their thumbs across the country, I was looking into retail. Something just so that I could go past go and collect £200. A lot of my friends got jobs at high street shops and most of them were at places they had absolutely no interest in (personal computing stores spring to mind). But I thought hey, I could actually work for a brand that I love albeit for a short amount of time. I am passionate about their clothing (as basic as it is) and I would not have any reason not to enjoy representing a company that had a moral standing I respected. The Legalize L.A. and Legalize Gay campaigns spring to mind straight away.
But no. I applied for a retail job. When I reached the bottom of the application form, something appeared that shocked me and made me stop and think whether or not I wanted to work for this corporation.
They asked me to provide photos of myself for the application.
Now please, stop and ask yourself this question.
Have you ever seen a non-skinny American Apparel worker?
I have visited many American Apparel stores, both in the UK and in the US. After I stopped and thought, I realised. I had not. In all my many ventures to the stores, whether to browse or to buy or to try on or to window shop, I had never seen a non-skinny American Apparel worker.
I will be the first to say I am not a size 8. Then again, I’m not obese. I’m in the comfortable middle ground that female sports players tend to inhabit. Not gymnastics either. Hockey. A sport with a reputation of having females with muscles. And we do, we have muscles. We’re not stacked bodybuilders, but to play at a decent level of the sport, everyone sadly loses their petite-ness and gains hockey thighs and hockey arms.
And in that small moment of clarity, it struck me. Obviously American Apparel do not want to employ people who do not fit the size zero dream. Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh here. Sizes two and four are probably just acceptable, but you really need to shift those last few pounds.
As a person in the world that still has what can only be apparently described as ‘pipe dreams’ (thanks to the impression left by American Apparel) it deeply saddens me. For a company that are so completely into the ‘cool’ rights fights like gay rights and immigration rights, it astounds me that they have such tunnel vision that they will overlook someone who doesn’t fit their image despite them being a viable candidate for a job.
I cannot believe that a brand that is so pro equality is so blinkered. Sadly, I cannot imagine that in the foreseeable future that this is going to change.