Is anybody else following these Gawker-led assaults on American Apparel? To be honest, I’m kinda conflicted about the whole thing. I shop there on a regular basis, as do most of my friends. I even recently encouraged a reluctant B to shop there for the first time when he needed some new t-shirts. None of us would be considered particularly “on-brand” from the perspective of AA corporate style. Most of us take serious issue with how material consumption structures life in contemporary society. Not to generalize for the people I’m close to, but I think the logic that we all share is that AA produces logo-free, decent-quality, sweatshop-free basics. I guess the last part is the most important to me on some level, as I’ve certainly encountered the occasional lapse in quality in AA products and find their aesthetic to be increasingly visible in its branding, if not to my parent’s generation certainly to people in my own peer group. But I’ve felt somewhat better about buying from AA based on their well-publicized mode of semi-ethical production. I’ve at least felt like it isn’t the worst place to buy an article of clothing if you have some sense of remorse about your object world being brought to you on the backs of the poor.
While I’ve certainly heard accounts of the snobbishness that goes on toward customers at AA stores, I’ve never felt particularly ill-treated while shopping there. That said, I tend to like being ignored when I’m buying things, so if you wanted legitimate help from a sales clerk I probably would steer you elsewhere. Some of the clothes have felt frustratingly ill-sized and I’ll admit it’s maddening to be a size 4 and feel like everything is too small. My local AA’s in Southern California seemed relatively diverse in their staffing, so I was surprised to read in these tell-all forums about the seemingly rampant discrimination that takes place behind the scenes. I have found AA employees to be uniformly good-looking and hyper-conformist to the brand aesthetic, which seems to support the accounts of a horrifying staffing process that involves constant photographing of both potential and current employees. I was under the impression that this sort of thing was illegal. However, I just watched a woman on a reality show on national television ask a potential assistant during a job interview if he slept around a lot, so apparently I’m just out of touch with how worker’s rights have devolved in the past decade or so. I guess I’m rather curious if AA is really an exceptional case, or if the lookism that they perpetuate part of most clothing stores’s modus operandi at this point in time. That is to say, I don’t see any unattractive, off-brand employees at most high-end retailers. Is the issue here that AA brands itself as an ethical company in its advertising while resorting to retrograde hiring practices behind the scenes? I see scores of angry commenters on Gawker calling for the end of American Apparel – is it better to shop somewhere with better retail hiring practices and more ethically problematic ones at the level of production? I’m genuinely asking this question, in part because I don’t see any other retailers at the level of mass production and distribution that sell domestically-produced, sweatshop-free clothing, manufactured by factory workers who are given access to low-cost meal programs and medical care. Is it an incredibly ugly truth that these standards are a radical departure from the manufacturing protocols of most other major US clothing retailers? Yes. Should the AA retail employees unionize (or at least organize) and disrupt the chain of distribution until they are afforded the basic rights of all taxpaying workers in the US? Absolutely. Are the anonymous Gawker forums the place to do such a thing? I kinda doubt it. If you are seeing chronic sexism, lookism, and other kinds of discrimination in your workplace as high as the corporate level, get legal representation and put your name on your complaint. While the US system isn’t designed to help, speak for, or even acknowledge the existence of the people who work in those clothing factories, it has become incredibly adept at addressing the issues of middle-class and upper-middle class workers suffering from discrimination in the past few decades, especially in a context this photogenic and media-friendly. I’m a little burnt out on news stories about the banker who was fired because she was too pretty (and also posting sexy photographs of herself on the internet). Or the online plaints of the AA employee who was fired because her nail polish was chipped. I’ll bet you that’s nothing compared to the labor practices at your friendly neighborhood Chinese megafactory that produces the 3 dollar t-shirts that fill your local Wal-Mart (or, for that matter, the labor practices at your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart).
What sayeth ye, dearest reader? I’m totally ready to face the accusation that I’m merely providing a palliative rationale for my own consumption to appease the gnawing worry that buying anything makes me part of the problem. I’ll say it upfront: I’m probably providing a palliative rationale for my own consumption to appease the gnawing worry that by buying anything, I’m already a part of the problem. I’m also ready to face the music on the fact that while I complain about the reality-television-ification of our culture that extends to the way in which our news is framed and delivered, I’m also one of it’s greediest consumers. Is this an impasse? Am I always-already a hypocrite?
My friends BC and S would probably say yes, if I can put words in their mouths. BC, S, B and I have been hanging out a lot in the past two weeks, as we’ve been trying to jam in quality time before S’s departure from Paris today (sob). The four of us gotten into a lot of heated debates, eaten some delicious meals at Rouammit and Le Hangar, watched some football and aired some ugly patriotism, prepared and consumed a gumbo feast, drank several bottles of French-branded tequila and whiskey, and reviewed our respective coming-of-age via hip-hop music for hours and hours on end (well, that was the boys, not me). It’s been pretty great and I’ve been in my sweet spot of being the girl who gets to hang out with all the cool guys, something that my inner geeky seventh grader never fails to enjoy. I’m so happy to know these guys and to be even remotely hip enough to roll with them.
As for S: Man, are we sad to see you go! I know you are returning to your überlovely girlfriend in the second (or third, depending on how you count) best city in the world, but we sure wish you could have stuck around here for a bit longer. I’m so pleased that somehow in the last few months we went from being exceedingly polite strangers to ragging on one another like old friends. Please feel free to think of this blog as a surrogate for Facebook whenever you like. We here at Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background should be so lucky. Vaya con dios, brah. You will be missed.