You might think the days of sex-related antics at American Apparel were over with Dov Charney, its scandalous founder, now out of the company. But you’d be wrong.
The company today (Nov. 24) said it had backed off plans for a campaign it was going to run on Black Friday, after an employee of the brand went public with her discomfort over the idea. The campaign entailed store staff wearing t-shirts with bold lettering that said, “Ask me to take it all off.”
As Jezebel reported, a female employee at American Apparel, who wished to remain anonymous, didn’t much appreciate the notion of wearing that message. Customers would hopefully know better than to take it seriously, but it’s not hard to imagine it leading to actual harassment in a store that built its brand image on sexualized marketing depicting actual American Apparel employees.
The difference between those marketing efforts and this one, the employee pointed out, is that those were purely at the discretion of the person involved. In this instance, the brand was asking a large number of employees to offer themselves up for objectification.
“Now they are actively encouraging our patrons to sexually harass me and my colleagues, some of whom are as young as 15,” the employee wrote in an email to website The Mary Sue. “A lot of our retail workforce is made up of high-school aged girls. There’s no question in my mind that anyone wearing the shirt will face inappropriate comments from customers.”
Store staff weren’t required to wear the t-shirts. An email sent to the stores said the shirts were optional, but employees were “highly encouraged to participate.” The staff could cut up the t-shirts as they liked, but they couldn’t cut the lettering and the shirts had to be “appropriate to wear on the sales floor,” the email said without any obvious irony. Staff could also opt to wear a button that said “Ask me to take it all off.”
In a statement to Quartz, American Apparel confirmed it had decided not to go through with the campaign, which was intended to be a play on words relating to their Black Friday discounts. “We understand that this offended an individual employee who spoke up about his / her concerns,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “American Apparel is a company that values free speech, and most importantly, creating an environment where employees feel valued, protected, and safe. As such, we have decided to discontinue this slogan and will seek other ways to stay creative and push the envelope, which is part of our brand DNA.”
That brand DNA has been a bit in flux lately, as American Apparel has sought to maintain its sexually-charged image while also distancing itself from the offensive behavior of its founder. Looks like it missed the mark on this one.