Sex and Ethical Fashion: A Match made in Capitalist Heaven?

It would appear so comparing American Apparel’s yearly profit with their famously errotic photo shoots.


AA is the Starbucks loving hipsters’ heaven – it is edgy, sexy and ethical.  It has found a niche in the market and gone somewhere far beyond it’s less risqué Banana Republic style competitors.

Dov Charney, the creator – or the new Hugh Hefner as he has become, is surrounded by controversy and scandal. He has been sued numerous times, wonders around the LA factory in his underpants demanding sex acts from his employees, addresses female workers as ‘sluts and whores’ and yet the company was named retailer of the year in 2008.

AA’s famous soft porn advertising is intrinsically linked to Charney’s own character.

The Times reported last year that half-way through an interview with a female reporter from an American women’s fashion magazine, Charney loosened his Pierre Cardin belt, removed his trousers and pleasured himself in front of her “eight or so times” and then she witnessed him request oral sex from an employee, who obliged.

On another occasion, a female employee was called into his office and offered a vibrator, because “it’s great during sex”.

And proving that sex definitely sells, Reuters reported 2009’s profits measuring between $575 million to $600 million…

Sex is not a new marketing tool, but when you buy from AA you know your body-con dress has not been made by a 10-year-old girl in a sweat shop in Indonesia, being paid less per week than you fork out for a skinny mochachino.

The workers at the LA store are paid twice the minimum wage and receive huge benefits including full health insurance – a rare thing for the kingdom of capitalism that is America.

So what is the problem – workers are being paid way more than most and all they have to endure is a slightly crazy looking boss wondering around half-naked. Times journalist Giles Hattersley believes, “isn’t it much worse to have your T-shirt stitched by a child slave from Indonesia than a responsibly paid young woman who has to endure the occasional ignominy of her boss running round her workspace with his meat and two veg hanging out?”

But Charney is not just a sex crazed old man. He is a marketing genius. The entire ethos of the stores’ advertising campaign oozes controversy – something scenesters magnate towards.

The prime audience are cool, young, free thinking twenty-somethings with casual attitudes towards sex.

The  photo shoots are  never real models but staff at the store or their friends, creating a more ‘real’ image. This is a gold mine for an audience bored with the straight-laced,  run of the mill glossy model pictures.

The latest Lace  photo shoots(see above) are basically naked women, looking alluringly into a camera – something you could quite easily find in a porn magazine.  Guardian journalist Aida Edemariam responded to the campaign by mentioning a New York billboard showing a woman bent over double, wearing only tights with the text “I wonder why women get raped?” in big black letters over it.

In September 2009 an advert was removed by the Advertising Standards Agency as it claimed the pictures depicted a girl under the age of 16 undressing for a soft porn film. AA claimed it was a 23-year-old model and the emphasis was on the soft to touch material that should be worn in direct contact with your skin.

This advert appeared in Vice magazine as as blogger Stuart Smith points out, “Controversy, as the title suggests, is inherent in its nature. Sample of content: The Vice Guide to Shagging Muslims.”

Judge for yourself below…


Some people believe AA’s images belong in a porn magazine, not a fashion shoot – but this is not a new thing for fashion. Fashion goes hand in hand with sex and controversy.

Charney has broken the market by mixing sex and ethical fashion. I wonder if his employers agree…

Shoreditchers are rejoicing in a label that is edgy, different, sexy  – and ethical, whilst Charney rejoices at the insurmountable wealth and recognition his store has created.


Filed under Fashion

4 responses to “Sex and Ethical Fashion: A Match made in Capitalist Heaven?

  1. alexmsmith

    Great article; really! I think Charney will crash and burn tbh – he sounds totally insane.

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