During the summer of 2008 I had a short and surprising career as a sales associate at an American Apparel store. During my time there, I felt that the company was not just keeping out “fashion laggers” and uglies but anyone who was not 5’5” and 100lbs.
I was living in New York City for the summer interning (unpaid of course) for a popular cable TV makeover show. Since it is difficult for the average girl to live on her meager savings while interning (I’m not Whitney Port, here) I needed to find a part time job to afford after work cocktails and the occasional fifteen dollar dress from H & M. I decided to stick with what I know best: retail. While in college in Michigan I worked at both J Crew and Macy’s, so a part time retail job should have been no problem.
American Apparel’s hiring process should have been a warning sign to stay as far away from the company as possible. It all began with the most unorganized interview process known to mankind – it was more like a mass casting call than an interview for a retail position. I waited in line with about a hundred other aspiring hipsters for three hours on the Houston St sidewalk in ninety degree weather. Once I finally made it inside the store the hiring manager looked at my application and three pictures (that were supposed to represent my style aesthetic, but in reality were probably used to keep out the “uglies”) I had submitted a week before. After a 2nd interview I was hired, which, after the messy interview process seemed like quite the honor. After being hired other new employees and myself were to meet at one of the stores on Broadway to complete the obligatory new hire paperwork but the woman who was supposed to meet us had called in sick and not notified any of us.
Once I had finally jumped through all of American Apparels hoops: the casting call, 2nd interview, and got the paper work done I found it was not a bad place to work. Most of the girls were cool, and it was all girls. The four boys at our store all worked in the stock room. The managers – two ninety pound hipsters (surprise!) – left a lot to be desired. They were constantly stressed out, locked in the tiny basement office, and hardly ever on the sales floor. I worked there for three weeks and they hardly observed any of the work I performed as a sales associate. There is a huge turn-over of employees in New York City American Apparel stores, after working a week and a half I they send new girls to shadow me to get the hang of things.
Overall, though, It was a pretty cushy job, a lot of hanging up clothes and sizing things. I was making some spending money and keeping busy on days I was not interning—it was by far not the worst job I have ever had. Since things were going well; what happened next was a totally unexpected, unpleasant surprise.
While I was walking back from my break on a slow weekday in July I walked past one of the shadiest looking men I have ever encountered. He was walking away from the store and stared me down intensely. This did not seem too weird since I had on leggings and a deep-v; I was used to enduring a few stares dressed from head to toe in American Apparel clothes. But the judgmental look from this guy stuck with me, I was still thinking about it that afternoon at work when I realized who it was—Dov Charney. He was in town checking on the high volume NYC stores and was just leaving the one I worked at.
The next day I was pulled in to the cramped manager’s office and was briskly told by the store manager that I was being let go because I socialized too much on the sales floor and was not a good fit for the company. This accusation was totally unfounded, if anything I socialized far less than the other girls and had never heard a negative word about my productivity. I was caught off guard and am not the best in situations that involve confrontation so I tried to gather myself and talk rationally with the woman I hardly knew who was firing me. I asked for a second chance since nobody had said anything negative at all about my work, had ever asked me to cut down on socializing or to work any harder. She told me my employment had been on a trial basis (which was news to me) that I could not have a second chance and would have to take my belongings and leave immediately.
I left her office too overwhelmed and shocked to argue any longer. When I reflected on this later that evening I realized how closely my firing coincided with Dov’s visit to the stores. Since the manager could not give me a coherent answer that made any sense as to why I was being let go, the only reason I can find for my firing was that I did not fit the American Apparel aesthetic that everyone there talks so passionately about.
I am not the typical girl you think of when you think American Apparel. I am 5’10” and have what my grandmother would call good “birthing hips” so there is not one clingy cotton dress that is flattering on me let alone long enough to wear in public. But I am a fan of the deep-v and some of the other shirt styles and wore these with leggings to work.
Maybe I was not hip enough for American Apparel. Maybe I didn’t style my outfit enough for them; admittedly I did often feel like I was wearing pajamas when I wore their clothes from head to toe as we were required to.
Still, it sucks because American Apparel should be a cool company: they make nice cotton basics, are made in the US, and claim to support open immigration policy and gay rights. But a company built on American values and supposed inclusively should not be indiscriminately firing people because they are not deemed desirable by the CEO.