Dov Charney Answers Our Questions on Hiring, Gawker and Why Larger Sizes Seem to be Disappearing at American Apparel

On Hiring Based on Appearances

YMO: Do you feel your appearance requirements for employees have been unfairly targeted?

DC: Yes.

YMO: Do you understand why people are under the impression, from these standards, that physical appearance is the predominant hiring qualification – more so than previous experience, skill or ability?

DC: There’s no evidence that physical appearances are the predominant hiring qualification. The emails that Gawker published don’t reflect the hiring concept that we’re pursuing. We’re trying to hire people that are trustworthy, that are tasteful, that wear the clothing in such a way that it presents an efficient communication to the customer.

That doesn’t mean excluding people of different shapes or sizes. If someone were missing an arm and they have good style, they’d be welcome.

YMO: How far up the ladder do the appearance requirements extend?

DC: It’s about taste. Some of the emails [from Gawker] were doctored. Some were communications between managers and employees not designed for public consumption or to be permanent declarations for the company as a whole. They weren’t part of the constitution of the company. They may relate to a particular store, or a particular employee or a particular problem.

[ed. note: I asked Charney to elaborate on which emails were doctored or false, but he couldn’t recall a specific message. He did insist that on at least one unspecified email words not in the original were inserted.]

YMO: Why do you think Gawker would alter anything?

DC: Because it keeps you reading, and coming back to their site for more. Let’s be clear who the pawn is – possibly the victims of their gawking. It’s a site to embarrass and shame people at all costs. They have the power to use the force of satire and the force of the media to intrigue people. I think they’re reckless with it and I was disappointed with Gawker because I feel they could do something better with their force.

YMO: But should a photograph be such an important part of hiring?
DC: Photographing people head to toe is the right thing to do if you want to see how people present themselves to customers. It’s not for a beauty pageant like Miss America where we’re looking at someone’s breast size. We want to see their style.

The vast majority who work for us weren’t hired off of a photograph though. We want to hire people who wear our brand well and sometimes photographing someone is a matter of memory. If I interview 100 or 200 people and someone stands out, a photograph can make it easier for me to remember them.

YMO: But if someone had good retail experience, was good with customers, but didn’t intuitively dress in a certain way?

DC: If they were really good at retail, but they worked at a bondage store, maybe not. Look, someone who works at Hot Topic may be really good at retail, but Brooks Brothers wouldn’t hire them.

YMO: So if they’re not “90’s Vogue Chic”…

DC: That was a young worker’s way of describing the style.

YMO: So it’s not an official policy?

DC: Trying to describe a fashion sensibility – it’s difficult to put into words. Our customer is getting older, they’re getting more mature.
Madonna started wearing safety pins then became an elegant lady. She goes from punk to haute class, and our customer is going through that. In the same way that Levi’s followed the boomers, we’re following their kids.

That’s why we’re trying to regulate what people are wearing. We sell hooded sweatshirts, but we had people who looked like they were wearing their pajamas in the store. The sweatpants were American Apparel, but 2 sizes too big. Or someone would wear an old t-shirt…

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