what was it really like to work at american apparel under dov charney?

personal stories from inside the label that helped define an era

Photos via American Apparel

As NYLON and others have been reporting, original hipster fast-fashion brand American Apparel is in such dire financial straits that it may not last the year. And, even if it does, it will never be the cultural touchstone and simultaneous hot mess that made it the inexpensive symbol of city-dwelling debauchery it once was. 

Already, board members controlling the 26-year-old company have fired libertine founder and media punching bag Dov Charney and have begun to shift away from its famously edgy, chaotic culture and identity. The era of condoned shoplifitng and dubious, reportedly predatory sexual practices is over and its iconic, controversial advertising is already gone. Whatever happens next, the American Apparel you grew up with, the American Apparel thousands of young people hated and loved to work for, is on its way out.

To mark its possible passing, we’re compiling personal stories straight from former employees of the brand that—with its gold-lamé leggings, skeezy reputation, and risqué photography—helped define the aesthetic of the early part of the 21st Century. We've protected the identities of these workers so they can share the good and bad parts of working for American Apparel without fear of lawsuits or damaged reputations. (Legal action is another part of American Apparel's legacy.)

Here is a brand that encouraged individuality through a sexy take on uniformed basics and also pushed for a made-in-America ethos that helped lead the way for more conscious labels, while also fostering an unhealthy work environment where sweaty nymphettes were de facto brand identity. Over-the-top sexuality was a key part of AA's DNA, which seemed to permeate everything from its imagery to its work culture, to the undoubtedly unacceptable actions of Mr. Charney. We've asked those who were there to tell us what happened, and why it continues to matter.

Enjoy—oh, and if you’ve got an American Apparel story to share, reach out to us in the comments section below, on social media, or at hello@nylon.com. We’ll be in touch.