Nancy Upton 1 – American Apparel 0

This is Nancy Upton, in case you didn’t know. Nancy is FAT…….according to American Apparel.

More than a year after an American Apparel rep informed adult star/model April Flores that “plus-sizes” are “not our demographic,” the company has starting selling a handful of women’s clothing in size XL. In August, they decided to run a “contest” called “The Next Big Thing” in an effort to find a plus sized company spokesmodel. Bear in mind that American Apparel’s XL is around a 12-14.

This was their “Call To Arms” for plus sized girls:

Think you are the Next BIG Thing?

Calling curvy ladies everywhere! Our best-selling Disco Pant (and around 10 other sexy styles) are now available in size XL, for those of us who need a little extra wiggle room where it counts. We’re looking for fresh faces (and curvaceous bods) to fill these babies out. If you think you’ve got what it takes to be the next XLent model, send us photos of you and your junk to back it up.

Just send us two recent photographs of yourself, one that clearly shows your face and one of your body. We’ll select a winner to be flown out to our Los Angeles headquarters to star in your own bootylicious photoshoot. Runners up will win an enviable assortment of our favorite new styles in XL!

Show us what you’re workin’ with!

Seems like a lot of hoo ha to sell 21 plus sized items, doesn’t it?

So, Nancy Upton entered the contest, submitting photographs of herself eating chicken and bathing in ranch dressing. Her bio: “I’m a size 12. I just can’t stop eating.” It was a wonderful parody of the company’s contest. Ms. Upton, who I do not know, but admire for not only her sense of humor but for her pride and willingness to put a company like American Apparel in its place, ended up winning the popular vote.

I don’t believe it was her intention to win the whole enchilada. In her own words (Huffington Post):

I’m very happy (and grateful) to see an article that so well articulates the fact that my entrance into this “contest” is me voicing my disapproval of American Apparel policy and NOT in any way a statement about the life of the plus-sized woman or the women who have submitted photos.

I very much appreciate the votes I’ve received- I thank everyone who took time out of their lives to do so.

It seems like a good time to answer a question on peoples’ minds:

I most certainly would not model for American Apparel, because (pretty obviously) I don’t agree with their business practices. I also would not expect to be asked to do so, even if I receive a majority of the votes (something I never planned on).

Obviously it was no surprise to Ms. Upton that American Apparel wanted nothing to do with her after she garnered the popular vote. Here is the “rejection” letter sent to Nancy Upton from one of the ad execs for AA:

Dear Nancy Upton,

My name is Iris Alonzo and I am a Creative Director at American Apparel. Along with four other women, I conceived of the Next BIG Thing campaign for American Apparel. Firstly, we are very sorry that we offended you. Our only motive was to discover and celebrate the many beautiful XL women around the globe who enjoy our brand, and to promote the recent size additions to our collection. Nothing more, nothing less. We would also like to assure you that no one is getting fired over your stunt, as you expressed concern about in a recent interview. We are fortunate to have a great boss who trusts and believes in our instincts and ideas, and we are still very excited about all of our Next BIG Things and looking forward to meeting our new XL brand ambassadors.

It’s a shame that your project attempts to discredit the positive intentions of our challenge based on your personal distaste for our use of light-hearted language, and that “bootylicous” was too much for you to handle. While we may be a bit TOO inspired by Beyoncé, and do have a tendency to occasionally go pun-crazy, we try not to take ourselves too seriously around here. I wonder if you had taken just a moment to imagine that this campaign could actually be well intentioned, and that my team and I are not out to offend and insult women, would you have still behaved in the same way, mocking the confident and excited participants who put themselves out there? Maybe you’ll find it interesting that in addition to simply responding to customer demand and feedback, when you’re a vertically-integrated company, actual jobs are created from new size additions. In this case, for the XL women who will model them, industrial workers that make them, retail employees that sell them and beyond. That’s the amazing reality of American Apparel’s business.

Though I could spend hours responding to your accusations and assumptions, this isn’t the appropriate forum for that, so I will only briefly address a few issues here. In regards to April Flores’ “that’s not our demographic” experience, I don’t recall the name of the confused employee credited with saying that, but he or she was sadly uninformed, and our company certainly does not endorse their statement. For as long as I can remember, we have offered sizes up to 3XL in our basic styles, and as far as adding larger sizes to the rest of our line is concerned, if there is the demand and manufacturing power to support it, we’re always game. There are thousands of brands in the market who have no intention of supporting natural – and completely normal – full-figured women, and American Apparel is making a conscious effort to change that, both with our models and our line. If every brand that tried to do this was met with such negative press, we may have to wait another decade for the mainstream to embrace something so simple.

In the past, American Apparel has been targeted for various reasons, many times by journalists who weren’t willing to go the extra mile to even visit the factory or meet the people in charge. Dov is a great executive director and American Industrialist, but there are hundreds of other decision-makers in our company, over half of whom are women. I suppose you have read a few too many negative pieces about us that have helped to form your opinion of who we are and what we stand for, and perhaps this has clouded your ability to give us a chance. I get it. I read some of it too. As a creative who isn’t always the most tactful and tends to stay away from the limelight, maybe I haven’t spoken up as much as I should have over the past 8 years that I’ve worked at American Apparel. Perhaps I could have shed some light on some issues that have been left cloudy over the years. However, sensational media will always need something to latch on to and success, spandex and individuality (and mutton chops circa 2004) are certainly easy targets. And who knows – maybe the PR ups and downs are all part of our DNA as a company. What I do know is that after all the years I have been working for this company I can wholeheartedly say that American Apparel is an amazing and inspiring place to work. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can represent of a ton of people I know when I say that we really like Dov and we passionately believe in his vision for a beautiful factory with sustainable practices. We are the largest sewing factory in North America, after all…10,000 jobs is nothing to sniff at. A lot of people would be very sad if this company wasn’t around.

That said, we realize that we are in no way perfect and that we’re still learning. We want to do better or differently in many areas, and we are actively working on them every day. You’re literally witnessing a transparent, sincere, innovative, creative company go through puberty in the spotlight of modern media. It’s not easy!

Oh – and regarding winning the contest, while you were clearly the popular choice, we have decided to award the prizes to other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out, and whom we will be proud to have representing our company.

Please feel free to contact me directly anytime. If you want to know the real scoop about our company before writing a story, I’ve got it (or if I don’t, I can put you in touch with the person that does!).

Best of luck,

Iris Alonzo
Creative Director
American Apparel

Great, I never realized that I had to visit a company’s main office, or hear from their corporate image manager to form an opinion on them. Come to think of it, I doubt that it’s necessary to form an opinion of anyone, any company, any song or movie, or anything else that I express an opinion on. Corporate image people are pretty slick, and I don’t think that hearing their propaganda would help change my opinion about their company, their owner, and the condescending tone of this contest.

Let us discuss Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel. Charney has been the defendant in several sexual harassment lawsuits. The company and independent media outlets have publicly accused lawyers in the lawsuits against American Apparel of extortion and of “shaking the company down.” Oh, I see…….again, because you and your attorneys say so, it must be true. Did you get that, Ms. Upton?

On the eve of trial in one case, the plaintiff confessed that she had not been subjected to sexual harassment and agreed to go to an arbitration hearing aimed at clearing Charney’s name. It later emerged that Charney had agreed to pay the plaintiff $1.3 million to withdraw the accusations, a revelation which raised accusations of bribery. However, the plaintiff failed to show up to the hearing and a ruling was unable to be reached.

The company was later sued by four ex-models for sexual harassment, including one plaintiff who sued the company for $250 million dollars. The latter lawsuits were subject to controversy when unsolicited nude photographs, consensual sexual text messages and requests for money surfaced. Charney was accused of being responsible for these leaks in a later lawsuit.

In 2004, Claudine Ko of Jane magazine published an essay citing several sexual exchanges that occurred while spending time with Charney. The article claimed that Charney consistently propositioned his employees. Charney admitted that he repeatedly referred to women as “sluts” and “cunts” in front of employees, in a deposition on another sexual harassment case, and denied that “slut” was a derogatory term. The article’s publication brought extensive press to the company and Charney, who later responded that he believed that the acts had been done consensually, in private and outside the article’s bounds.

While it appears that Mr. Charney seems to want to spend his money by keeping his accusers at bay, last year (June, 2010) the company reported that its quarterly operating loss had more than quadrupled from a year earlier, and warned that it risks defaulting on a credit agreement. The news sent its stock price, already trading in the low single digits, tumbling.

Financially, things must have been serious enough, since in a management shake-up earlier this year, American Apparel Inc. named John Luttrell, a former Old Navy and Wet Seal executive, as chief financial officer and executive vice president of the beleaguered clothing chain. Things were bad enough financially with the company in February of this year that it received a waiver to its credit agreement with Lion Capital and other lenders to help it avoid defaulting on its loan.

I believe that means that you can’t pay your bills.

Ms. Upton, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying her slice of fame, and the company, who has been taken to task by many after the contest ended, and they refused to acknowledge her victory, has since invited her to visit their corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. Here’s a message that was sent to AA by a reader of The Frisky, a website that discusses contemporary lifestyle and fashion:

Dear Iris,

By now you’re probably rethinking your response to Nancy Upton after she won your “Next Big Thing” contest. At least, I hope you are. In case you are actually still thinking that your response was fair, justified, or even just good business sense, perhaps this email (and the many lke it you will and no doubt already have received) will disabuse you of that notion.

The whole condescending contest was bad enough, but the way your company handled the fallout says even more about you, and it’s not good. Nancy Upton is a beautiful girl and you could have reached out to her and made something very positive out of all of this. Instead you only confirmed that the underlying problems and attitudes in your company that led to the poorly thought out contest promotion in the first place, are deep-seated and permeate your brand. This is a big problem. Do the right thing. Apologize to Nancy, follow the rules of your own contest and award her the prizes, give her a modeling contract, and turn all this nasty publicity into a win not only for American Apparel but for plus-size women and clothing lines. Show America that you’re not who your email response says you are. Until then, neither I nor anyone else I know, will be purchasing anything from AA.

Shea G

To her credit, here is the response from Iris Alonzo:

Hi Shea,

Thanks for your feedback.

I agree. I should have taken a deep breath before clicking send and not let my anger and defensiveness get the better of me. I’m not a mean girl and I am not proud of how I came across.

Just so you know, the contest rules stated that we would select two winners from the top 10 voted upon. We seriously considered selecting Nancy, but she made in very clear in a few interviews that she wasn’t interested in working with us even if we did pick her, so we left it at that.

Also, I did apologize to Nancy Upton and she has agreed to come to LA to meet myself and my team face to face, to see the factory and then decide how she feels about our company. I really appreciate this opportunity to hopefully show her a better side of myself and AA.

Again, thanks for your email. I’m taking the criticisms to heart.

Sincerely,
Iris

I hope her response is sincere, and that she’s taking the criticisms to heart.

In the meantime, it appears that Ms. Upton has won the war, or at least this battle. Her supporters lashed out at a company that appeared to almost mock the demographic that they were targeting as new customers, and in what appears to be an already unstable financial position, American Apparel has backed down, and invited Nancy Upton to visit them.

Just don’t stand too close to Dov Charney when you get there, Nancy. I think he might just be a closet FA, and want to grab some “fat slut ass”

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