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American Apparel: Sexualization vs Inclusivity

American Apparel has made its comeback. On April 23rd of this year it was reintroduced to UK markets. However, back in 2016, the basics clothing brand based in Los Angeles had closed down all 13 stores across the United Kingdom due to being $177 million in dept. However, its bankruptcy was far from its first controversy. Back in 2014 American Apparel’s founder and CEO Dov Charney was ousted from his position at the peak of his financial success – making a revenue of $634 million that year. Charney was accused of have sexually harassed, discriminated and violated former and current employees. In an interview with the Guardian he famously claimed that, ‘sleeping with people you work with is unavoidable’.

Charney’s accusations of sexual harassment are not the only controversial aspects about


​him. American Apparel is notorious for sexualizing women and men in many of their ads. For example, this sock ad has a model looking in to the camera suggestively with only socks on. On the left there are three cuts of her sporting vulnerable facial expressions which have nothing to do with the socks it is supposed to advertise.

Similarly, the underwear ad below pulls the consumer into the advertisement by using nudity. An uncomfortable close shot of the model’s behind communicates that this advertisement is supposed to sell underwear.

The Advertising Standards Authority has filed cases against American Apparel criticizing its obsession with the objectification of its models and its emphasis on the women’s’ body. According to the Huffington Post, American Apparel replied that they were only in pursuit of creating ‘authentic, honesty and memorable images’.

Although American has a dark history with over-sexualization, it has, ironically, been a front runner in sexual inclusivity. In 2014 American Apparel launched a t-shirt collection branded by Rupaul’s Drag Race stars Alaska, Courtney Act, and Willam- also known as the AAA girls. This was an extraordinary achievement for the LGBTQ+ community as it was one of the first times that drag queens were the faces for a mainstream clothing brand. With Rupaul’s drag race rising in popularity, it was a perfect collaboration to raise awareness of LGBTQ+. American Apparel has been one of the original brands campaigning for LGBTQ+ awareness partnering up with organizations such as GLAAD in order to initiate cultural change of LGBTQ+ acceptance. This year they released their collection ‘They O.K’ during pride month. They added meaning to their cause by openly casting for models within the LGBTQ+ community.

American Apparel is a confusing brand. Although it calls for sexual inclusivity it simultaneously objectifies sex. With the ousting of former CEO and its comeback from bankruptcy, American Apparel now has an all-female executive committee. American Apparel’s head of brand marketing Sabina Weber mentions they will still market ‘sexy’ but “from an empowered female perspective” per Adweek. The new revamped American apparel will feature neither porn stars (former models for their ads) nor industry models but regular everyday people with realistic body types and weight. It is exciting to see a wind of change blowing across American Apparel… although it was learnt the hard way.