I was in LA last week shooting some yoga videos and I had a couple of days off. I figured I could laze around my hotel and recover from soreness, catch up with my LA pals, or do something geeky and fun like take a tour of the American Apparel factory. I had been Facebook messaging Adrian Kowalewski, the financial wiz of American Apparel, and convinced him to show me around the factory downtown.
I try to avoid driving on highways when I'm in LA. Partly because I haven't driven much since high school, and am a little surprised they let us NYC people keep our licenses and rent cars. It's also saved me some time, since LA highways can often resemble parking lots. My neighborhood drives have provided a few less obvious benefits as well, uncovering some NY/LA comparisons useful in helping people from each coast understand the other.
West Hollywood is our Chelsea, Downtown our Midtown, Silver Lake is our Williamsburg, Los Feliz our Park Slope, Beverly Hills our SOHO, and Santa Monica is our West Village. Minus the beach. It's all the same but different. They have palm trees, houses, and aspiring actors. We have seasons, apartments, and all different types of people. They live next door to their neighbors. We live on top of ours. They live in their cars, we live on the pavement. Starbucks is everywhere in both cities but if you're in LA you might stick to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Their frozen mint coffee drinks are better than most pieces of chocolate cake. You can't get good pizza in LA if you're used to NY. The same goes for Mexican food if you live in LA.
I took Wilshire all the way downtown, ending up in a massive gravel lot you would expect to see at a summer concert or rave. That vibe continued as I waited for a warehouse elevator that fits about 30. One of the employees smiled at me and told me he liked my bright orange shoes.
Adrian met me, blackberry in hand, on the 7th floor. The factory and offices have no real separation. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this place didn't waste any space. No fancy boardrooms, perfectly placed plants, or anything that looked too important to touch. Adrian showed me Dov's office first. It was simple and efficient. The desk was plain, with no evidence of pretentious boss-like items scattered about.
We walked around the factory where he showed me employees working in teams on each garment. It's called "team manufacturing." Each team functions autonomously and determines its own daily production schedule, giving them control over their hourly wages. After implementing this approach, garment production tripled with less than a 20% staff increase. Adrian showed me the computer-run cutting tables and the storeroom, filled with fabric for as far as you could see in every color. There was a machine with a clear tube shooting out socks every 15 seconds. That was my favorite part.
And yes, I got to meet Dov. We talked about yoga. I ended up showing him a few of my YouTube videos - me wearing mostly American Apparel doing yoga in a hotel room, on a couch, and for hangovers. He said I was classy. I'll take that as a compliment for sure.
However people feel about American Apparel, it's usually passionate. I've seen friends argue about this company with the same intensity put into religion and politics. American Apparel appears like the rebellious child always getting into mischief, or maybe they are just ahead of the curve. From Legalize LA/Gay to real people in really hot ads, American Apparel has a lot more going on than your basic T-shirt.
I think the arguments are kind of silly and know I'm not alone in my fondness for this uber-cool company. I'm into Legalize LA/Gay. I wear their clothes for yoga and everyday getting around because they're comfortable, fit well, and don't have lotus blossoms painted on them. I know there are a few of you out there who go on rants against American Apparel whenever the name is brought up. I've heard many sides of it. So I've decided to come up with some reasoning for all this love and hate. Where do you fit in? Let me know in the comments and we can all hash it out.
5 reasons people love American Apparel
1. The clothes are awesome. They make basic clothes with a great fit that are current, energetic, and fun. Anything you need to put on your body you can find at American Apparel.
2. Solar Power. The warehouse has solar panels on the roof that can power up to 30% of the building. Pretty rad.
3. There are aerobics classes, English lessons and massages for the workers to prevent injuries and help reduce stress.
4. Fair wages and stock options for employees.
5. American Apparel is made in America. It's a marvelous idea, really.
5 reasons people are all riled up about American Apparel
1. You wish you thought of it before Dov.
2. You submitted your photo online to be one of the models and haven't heard back yet.
3.They haven't yet opened a store near you and you're feeling left out.
4. Somebody told you being gay is a sin. Seeing "Legalize Gay" on t-shirt upsets you.
5. Sexy makes you feel funny inside and that makes you mad.