Supersexual fashion brand American Apparel was accused last year of having a policy of firing employees that management deemed too ugly. According to some new inside information we received, hiring and firing is now largely based on employee photos.
Last July, a disgruntled AA store manager told us that AA CEO Dov Charney "made store managers across the country take group photos of their employees so that he could personally judge people based on looks. He is tightening the AA 'aesthetic,' and anyone that he deems not good-looking enough to work there, is encouraged to be fired." Charney later issued a conspicuously vague denial, saying only that AA hires employees who "have good fashion sense...But this does not necessarily mean they have to be physically attractive."
Clearly, that standard leaves a lot of wiggle room. Now, a source tells us that American Apparel has a new hiring policy. For the past several months, they say, job applicants at AA have had their photos taken—photos which are then sent to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, where they are "approved" by a nameless person for hiring. The applicant's resumé is a distant second when it comes to hiring decisions, our source says.
Our source also tells us that a new policy now says that in order for current AA employees to be approved for a promotion or raise, they must also have their photos approved. As they put it, "Your looks determine your position and pay rate, not how effective you are at your job."
Indeed, this excerpt from an internal transcript of American Apparel's May 18 conference call with retail managers references the need for "full body head to toe" photos in employee recruiting:
Our source says that these employee photos have become standard operating procedure, though the more objectionable aspects go unspoken; for example, district employees who don't like someone's photo may refer to them as "off brand," rather than overweight or unattractive, though the effect is the same.
Asked about this policy, American Apparel spokesman Ryan Holiday referred us to a statement that AA creative director Marsha Brady gave to The Cut blog a year ago:
We do screen, but not for beauty. What we look for is personal style. We carry year round basics that are easy to understand and pretty much sell themselves as basics. But to really showcase the fashionability of our products, we have to rely on the way our in-store employees style themselves with our clothes. The line consists of a tremendous number of colors that are more like art supplies than fashion, so when we're hiring, one of the things we look for is an ability to take our products, make them exciting, and show how cool they can look, which doesn't have much to do with just being pretty. We see applicants who don't have quite what we're looking for in retail but are recommended for modeling all the time. Every new hire contributes to our brand perception and it's very important to the success of the company to take it seriously. Not to say that we have the perfect retail workforce, but it's something we're giving priority to.
Asked how often store managers are asked to send in photos of their employees for review, Holiday said, "From time to time, someone may occasionally make a photo request to offer styling tips to a store or to make sure that employees are featuring new products, but its infrequent. More commonly, we send managers directly to stores to update staffs up on the latest developments in the brand."
What does seem clear is that American Apparel employees are regularly evaluated on their appearance, and their employment and advancement in the company depends on it. The line between judging employees on their "personal style" and judging them on their, you know, looks is one that exists only in the mind of American Apparel managers. The employees themselves may not be so comfortable with it.