Photo: American Apparel
When American Apparel first made headlines in the early 2000s, the story was all about a retail company that made all of its products right here in the U.S.”We make ‘Sweatshop Free’ T-shirts. Our goal is to seek profits through innovation not exploitation,” wrote CEO Dov Charney in a 2002 letter to the editor of Adbusters magazine.
While that “made in the U.S.A.” message never left the company, it has been overshadowed in recent years by over-the-top ad campaigns, sexual harassment lawsuits, a federal investigation into illegal immigrant labour, and fear of bankruptcy.
But as the company’s wholesale and internet business have helped sales rise in the past few months, American Apparel is once again highlighting its unique position in the apparel market by giving consumers online access to their downtown Los Angeles factory, the largest garment factory in the United States.
American Apparel has two knitting and dyeing factories that are separate from their downtown factory
It's in these locations that the fabrics are knit, dyed, and processed before being sent to the downtown location. This video is a little lengthy, but shows how the whole process works.
Located on the 1st floor of the downtown factory, employees in the Fabric Department inspect fabric coming in from the dyeing centres before they sent it up to be cut.
In this video, Hugo and Lamont show you the department.
Located on the 4th floor, the Cutting Department takes the newly arrived fabric and gets it ready to be sewn. The cutting is done with computers and by hand, in some cases.
American Apparel's Sewing Department is the heart of the factory. Here are a few facts about this department:
- This sewing facility is ranked #1 in size and volume in the Western Hemisphere
- The average sewer makes $11/hour. With added bonuses for good work, some sewers make $20/hour
- There are 20 different types of sewing machines on the floor
- It takes 25 sewers to make one pair of jeans
- There are 3,087 sewers employed at this factory
- 53,000,000 garments are sewn each year
It only takes two minutes to sew a basic t-shirt at the American Apparel factory. Part of the reason that they can create garments so quickly is because of sewers like Oscar. He sews the sleeves for t-shirts and can do so in a quick four seconds.
The sewing department is made up of about 3,000 employees, many of whom are either related or romantically involved. This couple, who has been married for 24 years, has worked at American Apparel for three years.
The whole process of printing a logo on a t-shirt - from emailing the image to actually printing on the shirt - takes 3 minutes.
After garments are sewn, each one is inspected and measured by Quality Control on the sewing room floor. The employees in Quality Control have each gone through a six month training process and are experts in specific styles and garments.
The Trim Department on the 4th floor manages zippers, buttons, grommets, draw cords, and elastic for underwear. American Apparel does not produce the trim, they buy them from other sources. It's difficult to find American made trims and get them in a timely manner.
He recently moved his business into the American Apparel factory's 3rd floor. While still running his own family business, he also makes shoes that are sold at American Apparel stores.
The Hosiery Department is where American Apparel knits your socks, tights, and leg warmers. In total, they create 75 different styles of socks on the floor.
Production Planning, on the 7th floor, does so much that most of the people who work in the department can't say it in less that 15 words. JT (pictured) described it in three words: 'planning the unplannable.'
Probably true, but this department is in charge of order the right fabrics, getting the fabric to the right sew teams, and coordinating the rest of the production process.
You may recognise this sometimes American Apparel model, Eliana. She also works in the Product Development (also on the 7th floor). Watch here as she shows us how they take an idea for pants and make a sample in only 3 hours.
Zoriada, the distribution manager, considers her 530 person department the cash register of American Apparel. Because if they don't ship, no one gets paid.
This department, which covers six floors, ships to over 15 countries, moving 25,000 single garments a week to consumers, and 350,000 units a week to wholesalers.
Charney was out of the country when his team did this tour. So instead of shooting an empty office on the 7th floor, they posted a video of their fearless leader doing a phone interview. Apparently, instead of using his office or a conference room for interviews, he prefers the bathroom.
The roof of the factory is made up from solar panels that supply 15% of building's energy needs. To keep it in good shape, they clean it every three months. And by they, I mean the models.
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