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American Apparel: Exploitation to the Highest Elevation


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American Apparel: Exploitation to the Highest Elevation
Amanda Data Lifestyle and marketing through social media platforms, such as Instagram, has increased company sales exponentially. Well-known, “Made in the USA” brand, American Apparel has continually sought after its minimalistic customers through heavy media presence. Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” suggests that social media democratization has secured a “unified freedom of speech” in a society that encourages the publication of anyone that wants to have a voice in these social media outlets (79). American Apparel’s Instagram presence has created a feed of the brand’s current aesthetic, showing no evidence of the risqué and inappropriate advertisements from past seasons – accounts that the company has been chastised for on numerous occasions. In a society where freedom of speech unites social media users, it also has consolidated a profile of companies where others have access to preconceived ideas of them. While American Apparel has attempted to use Instagram in effort to retract their resentful brand image from the past, it appears that they have misused the security of “unified freedom of speech” to the own disadvantage, resulting in wallowing debts and a cooperate image that is misrepresented by their picturesque Instagram. Author of The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell focuses on the idea of spreading thoughts, ideas, and relationships through one single people that enables themselves to provide this sort of global networking. Globalization is attributed to the connectors of different cultures that extended their connections to cultures different than theirs, leading to producing culture similarities, sparking active discussions between, and people taking initiatives to conform/differentiate themselves. Connectors do have distinct personalities but they do have attributes and the luxury of connections that are either self-made or born into as more connectors surround themselves with other connectors. Companies are required to distinguish themselves as connectors, even if some of the people they employ are not. American Apparel uses Instagram as a place to connect their customers and allows them to “shop our feed”. This platform provides an outlet of unification where their follower base can get a taste of pleats, short skirts, Keds, mock neck tops, striped tube socks , and heavy denim - the whole “90’s is still cool” vibe. The photos feature an array of model diversity, geometrical backgrounds, and setting of R.Vs, pools, and bedrooms. While women are still heavily featured on the feed, confidently portraying the ideal AA lifestyle, the central idea of women empowerment - a topic that the new CEO has stated that the brand wants to encompass – is not blatantly visible. A longtime follower of the brand would argue that although this type of brand aesthetic is nothing new for the company, it has visibly toned down the vulgarity of its images within the past few months. Even since the latter months of 2014 with former CEO in place, Dov Charney, it was not a surprise to log onto a news media website to find that American Apparel was fighting yet another lawsuit against discrimination. Creating an Instagram Lookbook filled with people of multiple races is just a single marketing tactic that reinstates “we aren’t so bad after all”. Shirky provides an excellent point in when one “surveyed the amount of self-published content on the internet, many media companies currently understood that the trustworthiness of each outlet was lower than that of established outlets. The same idea, published in dozens or hundreds of places can have an amplifying effect that outweighs the verdict” (65). Last March, I remember reading an article backlashing an email scandal sent within the American Apparel headquarters. It was written by a photoshoot coordinator advertising the next public casting call for their infamous advertisements, however this specific message was meant to be received by models already in their incubator, who have already worked with the company before. It was a request for real models - “no Instagram hoes” welcome, it read, in reference to the multitude of ads released by AA in the past, explicitly underlining the notion of schoolgirls performing sexual acts in effort to promote their clothing. This story created a public outroar, being published from nearly every news site – from the credible, New York Times and Vogue Magazine to more undermined sources, including Buzzfeed. While trusted sources and bloggers alike covered the incident, the enormous amount of coverage the story received pointed the question of trustworthiness not at the news sites, but at American Apparel itself. In his novel, Gladwell gave an example of a guy named Horchow who represented one of the many connectors of the world. “The people he puts in his diary or on his computer are acquaintances – people he might run into only a year or once every few years – and he doesn’t shy away from the obligation that that that connection requires” (46). Following up with company employees not only demonstrates strong communication of behalf of their employer, but it is crucial for success. The viral email sent not only deteriorated girls from attending the cast call, thus loosing many possible future connections, they also jeopardized the relationships kept with models in the past that assumed they represented the “Instagram hoes” image. The public continued to scrutinize this email, posting comments on news articles, asking questions such as “What is real model?” At that, who meets the criteria of being an “Instagram hoe”? The American Apparel advertisements of the past did not completely constrain shoppers from supporting the brand. In fact, many have applauded the campaigns. Women have acknowledged their use of real customers. This means girls that have not had previous modeling experience. Girls that were “curvier” than the average size 2 model. Girls with irregular freckles. Girls with cellulite that were not airbrushed for the finished product. For a company with a highly questionable cooperate management team (as portrayed by the media), it seemed that the advertisements were one of the only positive attributes going for the brand. Positive used in this context, is quite contradictory of course. The ads are positive in the sense that they create a direct brand image – they know and understand who their customer is. They were aware that their decision to feature girls “just like them” established an added customer value to the brand. The erotic images also were brought to the attention of male customers, creating added sales to their men’s line. Audio has been replaced by visual. “We tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how to make messages more contagious – how to reach as many people as possible with our products or ideas. But the hard part of communication is often figuring out how to make sure a message doesn’t go in one ear and out the other (Gladwell, 25). I found that the “stickiness factor” was an interesting foundation to society’s current problem of beauty standards and how our mind’s take this stick and sorts it into a section of our mind that reminds us what appeal should look like. Bringing attention back to the advertisements, the positives as stated above are juxtaposed by the negatives. Real girls have taken a liking to using Instagram to filter, saturate, and polish their lives in the same way that American Apparel has tried to do for their own image. Once you take these real girls out of the marketing mix they are basically requesting to replace their ads with girls who also have Instagrams, although their photos are comprised of professionally done, DSLR camera Kodaks, who do not even necessarily promote the brand. American Apparel has certainly applied Gladwell’s suggestion as to how to create message that stick with consumers in the sense of creating a negative image on the brand. In my attempts to apply for a job there last winter, the first step in the application process was to subject a photo of yourself. Alerts went off in my head, giving clear indications of what an unethical brand this was, without even constructing proper research. By the time that I got to googling their advertisements, sirens went off. I couldn’t help but wonder why a vertically integrated company that prided themselves on employee ethics, added to the society norm of sexualizing teens. “Most organizations believe they have much more freedom of action and much more ability to shape their future than they actually do” (Shirky, 67). This relates back to Shirky’s “unified freedom of speech” suggestion. While we are free to post whatever we choose on social media and people have formulated an opinion of us based on the content and context of this image we’ve created for ourselves, it is extremely hard to use freedom of speech to make a reversal on this image. It is hard to imagine in this current day that the concept of “Word of mouth” will die. However “word of mouth” is not taken as literally anymore. It can be found in the forms of social media presence more now than ever. It is clear that even in effort of moving American Apparel away from a provocative past, their publicized social media references play a larger role in marketing, then their colorful, authentic Instagram presence does.

Works Cited
Adams, T. & Smith, S. (2008). Electronic tribes: The virtual worlds of geeks, gamers, shamans, and scammers. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Boston: Little, Brown.
Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

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