Life at American Apparel: The Employees SpeakS

We've told you about American Apparel's photo-based hiring standards, its anti-uglies internal policies, and its "natural" employee grooming standards. Yesterday, the company issued a statement defending itself. Well then. Time for AA employees to spill some dirt for you.

All of the following are taken from emails we received from current and former American Apparel employees during the past week. Yesterday, American Apparel said in its statement that "American Apparel does not hire or retain applicants based on 'beauty.'...The company legitimately reviews current photographs of job applications and employees to consider their sense of style and the way in which they present themselves." Now, some employee perspective on that policy:

These [biases] based on attractiveness are 100% accurate. Throughout my years there, I was repeatedly forced to deal with unprofessional, and unqualified corporate employees. There's no way that these 19 year old girls had the foggiest idea how to manage entire districts of retail stores. I was always confused as to why these was always some overly-sexualized young woman on the arm of every male employee with a job at the factory. Why did they need "assistants"?...

At the time of hiring someone new, it's true, they had to be good looking. My manager didn't like the policy, but enforced it. The only girls that were not totally emaciated were forced to work back-stock. So as not to disgust the customers with their average sized hips. God forbid. Photographs had to be taken. We were told how to dress, down to how we weren't to wear makeup.

If Dov had it his way, every employee at AA would be barely legal, emaciated, and wearing a lace tank-thong with high heels...Horrible man. Horrible company. Horrible quality of clothing. Horrible everything.

A pithier version:

It's not only pictures for employees that we need to take pictures of. We need to submit a photo of ourselves if we are to get a raise to make sure we are on brand. Even the stock boys. It is bullshit.

Clothes weren't the only things that could get a potential employee declared "off-brand:"

Dov and Marsha didn't like the idea of band members working at AA. If the applicant was in a band, we were supposed to take down his/her myspace or website address and that would go into the email being sent in for review. A résumé would not be sent, though. Just pictures and some notes we made about the applicants. There was some sort of "interview sheet" on the intranet, but I never knew a manager who made use of that, nor do I ever remember it being mentioned on the conference call. Oh, and the same went for blogs and bloggers. AA wanted to know what their sites looked like and were about.

So to be clear- there was NO outlined rubric for hiring that was ever brought to anyone's attention. No point system. Nothing. I tried so hard to get numerous interesting, experienced, intelligent employees hired, but they weren't "on-brand" enough.

A recently departed former AA store manager tells of life in Dov's fast-paced kingdom:

Corporate reps started visiting more and more often. I use the term "reps" loosely because for the most part, these girls (and yes, they were nearly almost always hot chicks in their 20's) resume's would read like Kelly Bensimon's interests blurb on facebook... "Model, photographer, style icon" etc etc.

Employees were fired for being "off brand" at a moment's notice, and my staff began to dwindle. Eventually it reached the point that I was working 7 days a week, every week, for months. I could count the number of days off I'd had in 6 months on one hand. The worst part was that they wouldn't let me hire anyone. I kept taking pictures, kept sending in emails to get REALLY AWESOME people approved, and kept being told no, no, no. Either they didn't like their style, or they looked off. There were never any concrete reasons for applicants not being approved. Emails usually came back with one liners "Not approved. Bad style". Even people who had been approved previously weren't safe. If Dov saw someone he didn't like—they were supposed to be dunzo. I knew of people within the company who had been fired for refusing to terminate employees Dov wanted gone. I won't go in to the personal hell my life became anytime Dov was in town—that's a different story for a different time.

This former employee did time at both retail stores and at the company's factory in Los Angeles:

We were asked to take class photo's constantly. In one instance we received a mysterious phone call from a girl who would not give her exact position, but said she had heard that we were doing poorly and found us some recruits. We were then forced to send in a class photo immediately ( so that she could assess the alleged ugly employee situation ). Only three of us were working, including myself, and the photo was sent in within five minutes. A few minutes later we got a call back saying " well you guys look great, I thought you had a staffing issue over there." Basically implying that the only plausible reason for not making sales is being unattractive. To no surprise the store was closed down months later. I have had my picture taken countless times and if I questioned it I probably would have been fired. I briefly worked at the factory and discovered how disgusting the company actually is. My very first day I was greeted with " go upstairs to the second floor, Dov is giving away free shoes to pretty girls." My business at the factory was in the "creative" department. My skills as a graphic designer were dismissed and all that mattered was that I was attractive. I received the position by having my picture taken, not by resume, portfolio, or degree. I had encounters with the models, who are by the way, probably the dumbest girls in North America.

On the company's Grooming Standards:

In regard to the recent article about Grooming, it is 100% true. Not only do they have it on paper, they also have a team from "corporate" who come to the stores just to see what we're wearing. Just a couple weeks ago, a posse of power tripping nineteen year olds came in (literally everyone from this corporate fantasy land is a maximum age of 20) and made me go to the bathroom and wash my makeup off (and by makeup I mean a splash of liquid eyeliner and mascara and nothing at all hooker inspired). And then they scolded me for not being on the sales floor. Also, whenever we get considered for raises/promotions, we're required to have our photos sent in for approval. My co-worker was recently denied a spot as Manager because she didn't fit the company image. I have no idea why we continue to work there. And more importantly how are none of us involved in a lawsuit?

And more:

girls have been told to grow out their eyebrows. formal warnings have been handed out for having chipped nail varnish.

we have been told not to hire guys to work on shopfloor.

to hire someone we have to take their photo (one close up, one full length) and send it to work@americanapparel.net requesting that they be "approved." Girls with short hair, fringes, heavy make up will not be approved. guys will only be approved to work in backstock. interviews/experience/talent is not required. this goes for manager and visual merchandiser jobs also.

On the racial aspect of the job:

The store in which I work is located in a very racially and class segregated city, and all the people who work in the back are people of color and everyone who works on the floor is a thin white person.

Myself and another black woman who works in the back recently had a conversation regarding this, that it's not so much that there is a dress code telling us what to wear and not show tattoos (which is fairly standard, unfortunately, as someone with multiple tats and plugs), but that the way in which it is written, interspersed with pictures of thin white models, is condescending and sets forth a very specific message about who they want to work in their stores and, since it tells us we are supposed to "be what our customers aspire to", who they want to shop there. My co-worker told me about this moment with our manager when she was looking at the internal AA website at photos of employees at other stores saying how beautiful these girls were... when my coworker looked at the pictures, all she saw were multiple photographs of very thin and very tall white women who weren't necessarily or particularly more "gorgeous" for any reason.

[As always, if you're an AA employee with something to share, email me.]

Previously

American Apparel's Complete Guide to Grooming
American Apparel: Internal Documents Reveal Uglies Not Welcome
American Apparel Has a 'Full Body Head to Toe' Employment Policy

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