American Apparel is back (under new ownership!) Now made in China, Mexico and well, pretty much everywhere but America.
From The Guardian:
One big change is the Made in the USA tag. Its commitment to producing all of its collections in downtown LA factories – Charney refused to outsource from the US – defined its former incarnation. Now, the brand splits manufacturing between its own factories in Central America and Gilden-approved vendors governed by its Genuine Responsibility programme around the world, including Mexico and China.
Is anyone falling for this crap? Basically American Apparel is now just another H&M or Forever 21, perhaps differentiated only by having more annoying and preachy social justice ads (probably motivated more by claiming a profitable niche market than by any genuine sentiment.) They also claim to be “sweatshop free,” but this is to large extent a distinction without difference. Whether or not a factory can technically be called a sweatshop or not distracts from the fact that companies manufacture in other countries in order to undercut American workers, skirt US labor laws and avoid environmentally protective regulations. So yeah, maybe the central American garment sewer isn’t being beaten with a whip all day, but let’s not pretend there’s any real ethical considerations going on here. It’s just the construction of a rather shrewd PR angle.
Outsourcing is an American value
The whole charade serves as a metaphor for contemporary America. There is no physical country, no place. Everywhere is America. American Apparel promotes American values, values which it redefines as anything abstractly inclusive anywhere in the world (in stark contrast with almost all of American history and any known value which might actually work toward America’s benefit.) Anything which enriches CEOs at the expense of interest of the American worker or the interest of the nation itself is now an “American value.” If America includes everyone, then it ultimately includes no one…since there’s nothing to distinguish it from anywhere else. In a tragic sense, American Apparel does represent contemporary American values. For added insult, the company offers customers the opportunity to pay extra for items “designed and sewn in USA,” which like “assembled in USA” is yet a common weaselly worded obfuscation corporations use to denote something not actually made in USA. Perhaps they do make a handful of garments in the USA, but if so it’s such a trivial amount that it can’t be seen as anything but a token PR ploy to provide cover.
Say what one will about the original American Apparel and its attempt to redefine American ideals as the promotion of mass third world immigration (the likes of which have never been supported by any US immigration law prior to 1965) and the sudden promotion of various LGBTQ causes. There was at least genuine commitment to favorable conditions for workers and a focus on product quality. Their clothes were actually made in the USA, which made even someone like me happy to buy them, even if I was not fully on board with Dov Charney’s conceptualization of America. The old American Apparel was also one of the few places I could still buy a velour tracksuit. American Apparel, with its unitards, 70’s pornwear accessories, and shiny, Buck Rogers era disco attire…always seemed to cater to a period in fashion which I’m probably one of the few people who admires. There’s no getting around it. When it comes to clothing, Dov Charney and I have the same tastes. People also made a big deal about the sexual advertising, but I personally thought the ads were terrific. Maybe they pushed the envelope a little too far, but I’m not a huge prude so I never found them offensive. They ended up being a canary in the coal mine though for what has now become completely common: the rising sexual puritanism of the left and the icons of liberalism being consumed by their own pets. If you support the open sexuality of females you’re exploiting them. If you promote sexual modesty, you’re oppressing them. If you are “pro-white” then you’re a nazi white supremacist. If you advocate for colorblindness, you’re also a white supremacist for not challenging the “privilege plus power structure.” If you are a white person that’s anti-white, you’re engaging in socially acceptable white supremacy, since you’re seen as appropriating “poc” issues and denying blacks their own authentic voices.
For those who appreciated the old American Apparel, there is some good news. Dov Charney has also returned with an amusing, generically named spinoff company, Los Angeles Apparel. He purchased much of the original equipment, and one can rediscover the familiar Made in USA clothes that can’t really be found anywhere else.
You Had me Until Number 10
Los Angeles Apparel has a “values” page, featuring a list of what should be common sense, ethical corporate values (yet are sadly lacking and would be considered heretical at most major corporations.) Elsewhere on the site Charney claims to be a proponent of “Contrarian Thinking.” Upon closer inspection though, what Charney euphemizes as “contrarian thinking” could at times be better described as self-contradicting. Others might also recognize that far from being any kind of contrarian, he seems to be conforming to some of the most common Jewish stereotypes (as articulated by Sarah Silverman here.) The stereotypes I’m speaking of, are mainly the following:
A. The promotion of open borders and mass third world immigration as some kind of retroactively discovered Western value, (which never existed before.)
B. Hostility toward any form of explicit nationalism (in Western or European countries,) whether it’s economic nationalism, civic nationalism or ethnonationalism.
C. Advocacy of a sexually promiscuous culture, a wide assortment of sexual orientation and an appreciation for sleaze aesthetic (Hey, I didn’t say all Jewish stereotypes were inherently bad.)
The self-contradiction comes here:
10.We Support Free Trade
We are not nationalists. We support worldwide free trade. We believe we can compete globally and still produce value for our customers while remaining true to our sustainability and efficiency commitment. We want to sell our products to the world and we understand the importance of other countries having access to our market.
This isn’t really contrarian thinking. It’s just self-defeating. Perhaps you can “still compete globally” by filling a niche or novelty market for clothing Made in USA, but what about the little yarn shop you’re sourcing materials from? They don’t have a gimmick and as a result of your promotion of free trade will have to compete with factories in the third world that can produce a similar quality product at a fraction of the price. The ultimate result of this is what Ross Perot described in his “Giant Sucking Sound” answer in the 1992 presidential debates, a lowered standard of living for American workers, util it at some point equalizes with a rising (yet still much lower) standard of living for the third world.
Rather than global free trade, what is needed is to form a trade bloc with other countries that have similar wages, labor and environmental regulations. This would actually encourage third world countries to adopt better working conditions and environmental controls in order for them to have access to our markets. The current “free trade” system incentivizes developing countries to make things as cheaply as possible, since achieving the lowest production costs and consumer prices are the only relevant priorities in gaining a foothold in US markets. What is the point in fighting for a $15 minimum wage if you’re going to have to compete with overseas factories that pay employees 10 cents per hour? You’re not going to make up the difference in money saved via shipping costs. On the same token, what is the point of having a $15 minimum wage, when unlimited amounts of people can come here. You might win at the ballot box and feel good about yourself, but there won’t be enough $15 an hour jobs to go around for all the millions of people you’ve invited.
If you are not “nationalists” what exactly is the point of prioritizing and supporting the local community, if there is nothing to differentiate said community from the global community at large. If there are no borders, and the whole world is your community, why demonstrate any preference for local businesses and workers at all? Charney would do well to just simply embrace economic nationalism, the sort of which up that most democrats championed, even well into the 1990s. “Nationalism” itself isn’t a dirty word, especially when its forces can be constructively channeled away from those with imperialist ambitions. Most countries aim to conduct national and international policies which are in the best interests of their citizens. Denmark, China, Japan, Czech Republic…most countries engage in some form of nationalism, and that is okay.
Having said all that, I would still prefer to buy from Charney’s Los Angeles Apparel over the farcical reanimation of “American” Apparel. Los Angeles Apparel is a more ethical company, and engages in nationalism in practice even if it shies away from embracing it in principle. “American” Apparel is like a shitty movie remake looking to cash in on someone else’s proven idea. It’s very nature is more shamelessly exploitative than even the sleaziest of original American Apparel billboard advertisements. Los Angeles Apparel is a genuine manifestation of someone’s style, dreams and ideals. For that reason, I will enthusiastically purchase some sunglasses from them.
Brandon Adamson is the author of Skytrain to Nowhere