This is not the time to criticize American Apparel CEO Alpha Dov [Charney]'s sometimes idiosyncratic behavior (i.e. he sometimes gives in-person interviews from the toilet at his company's LA factory) and the brand's disturbing advertising practices, but in light of the major factory collapse which happened last month in Bangladesh, his retail company's manufacturing practices are a positive example for the garment industry. In a VICE video podcast interview with conservative columnist Reihan Salam, Charney attacked fast fashion companies like H&M, calling offshore sourcing "a form of apartheid."
"Can H&M afford $50 a week? They shouldn't be making clothing. If they can't pay $50 a week, don't make clothes."
Charney is, of course, mostly right. Despite H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson's claim that he appealed to the Bangladesh Prime Minister ("We’ve already asked for it twice and they’ve raised it both times, and now it looks like they’ll raise it again") to raise the country's minimum wage (which is $38 a month), the Swedish corporation is welcome to pay workers more (labor advocates estimate that a living wage would amount to at least $60). Persson might argue that paying higher wages might undercut its competitive advantage among other Western companies operating overseas, but Charney is right when he points out that H&M is huuuuge.
"H&M is a $22 billion corporation — they've amassed an enormous amount of wealth. They don't have to have their hands dirty to the extent that they do."
Charney also points out that "a $4.99 bikini doesn't exist unless you're screwing someone."
The CEO makes some strong points and yes, American Apparel deserves a lot of credit for manufacturing in the US, but the situation is likely more ambiguous on the ground. Charney is quick to take advantage of these kinds of controversies to bolster his company's image in the public eye (remember last year's Olympics uniforms scandal?) — that's fine and natural, it's just worth remembering that he's hardly an impartial observer. (Also, note the venue for this interview: American Apparel has been one of VICE's longest-term advertisers, although a disclaimer at the head of the clip makes it clear that the podcast is not an endorsement for the garment retailer.) I'll be bringing you more information about the company's production practices in the coming days.