American Apparel is a fashion company with an iconic brand, and an excellent product. They are paving the way in the ethical fashion industry through manufacturing their clothes in the USA, sweatshop-free, and with fair wages for employees.
As you know, American Apparel has always stood for simplicity, quality, honest design, fair wages for all employees. As North America’s largest apparel manufacturer, American Apparel remains steadfast in their commitment to preserve jobs in Downtown L.A. and 10,000 jobs throughout the nation and abroad, while continuing to pay fair wages.
Vertical integration is not only smart for a company, but for the community, local and regional economy, our environment, and, in turn, customers.
In the past decades, it has become the norm amongst the majority of US apparel companies to move their manufacturing operations abroad to third party vendors. American Apparel has kept it local. They vertically integrated, and operate the largest apparel manufacturing facility in North America, right in Downtown LA.
They believe that having manufacturing under the same roof as design, marketing, accounting, retail and distribution gives them the ability to quickly mobilize all departments, to respond directly to changes in the market, and to have complete visibility over their product – start to finish. An added bonus – this business model is inherently sustainable.
What does it look like in action?
Let’s take their staple product, a t-shirt. The shirt starts as spools of yarn that are knit into rolls of fabric in one of their three knitting facilities in Southern California. These rolls are then dyed, either within the same facility, or in another one of their dye houses, at most 30 miles away. These lots of fabric are then cut, sewn and packed into a box under the same roof at one of their three factories in Southern California. At the same time these garments are being made, their creative department, including photographers, models, and graphic designers, is creating the marketing campaign for their brand without the help of an outside PR firm or celebrity spokespeople. Their shipping and retail departments handle the distribution of these products that they sell themselves in more than 280 stores.
Not only is this an efficient method for their company, but also for the environment. Vertical integration by definition shrinks a company’s carbon footprint, as the materials are not shipped back and forth internationally, across thousands of miles, in the production process. As you can imagine, most garments you buy are the sum of disparate entities – knitted in one place, dyed in another, sold wholesale somewhere else and finally cut and sewn in unethical, sweatshop conditions.
When you buy a t-shirt from American Apparel, a smaller portion of the margins goes towards fuel, trans-ocean container ships, middlemen, boxes, pallets and entropy. Instead they’re able to spend that money on paying living wages to our workers, higher-quality materials for our garments, and investing in the future of their company.
By centralizing their manufacturing operations, they’re not only increasing efficiency, they’re being held accountable and responsible for their actions, because their name is on the side of the building. They do their own knitting, dyeing, cutting and sewing in-house which means they can ensure adherence with US environmental regulations with regards to effluents, waste disposal, airborne particulate matter, and many others. Fashion labels who sub-contract their labor and sewing to dozens of shadowy third-world factories never even need to know the names of the environmental codes intended to keep run-off from polluting local drinking water.
Their average factory worker makes $12 to $14 dollars an hour -the highest pay worldwide for the manufacturing of apparel basics, and significantly more than California’s minimum wage. For them, higher pay means heightened efficiency, a better and more consistent quality of work, stronger employee morale, and ultimately, retention rates of skilled operators.
They simply believe this is the right way.
Some of these initiatives may fall under the banner of “Sustainability.” Others may be closer to “Corporate Responsibility.” To them, these are the natural results of their business model, which encourages responsible and informed decisions, alongside innovation.
American Apparel’s industrial revolution has been in progress for nearly 10 years now. And in our opinion, it’s only the beginning.
According to their company’s rep, these are the things they stand for:
As a company, we have certain resources that individual activists do not. We try to use that special ability to support political causes that need help. American Apparel regularly uses its billboards, advertisements, press contacts and even printed t-shirts to speak out about important issues. Our two biggest issues have been Immigration Reform and Gay Rights
American Apparel has been campaigning for immigration reform for over 11 years. Immigration is an issue that weighs heavy on the hearts of our employees and family members. As citizens of Los Angeles, we know the benefits that all hardworking immigrants bring to this city and its culture and we’ve been fighting to change the system that strips them of rights and dignity. View our site and blog, LegalizeLA.net for more information about our stance on Immigration Reform.
When California voters passed Prop 8 in 2008, we let our GBLT employees know we would support whatever they wanted to do. We believe in freedom, expression and equality, things that are inherently condemned in the prohibition of gay marriage. After printing a few hundred Legalize Gay t-shirts for a rally they attended, the company received thousands of requests from people all over the world who asked for us to expand it. We’ve since given away over 50,000 of these shirts, run protest advertisements and even partnered with HRC for their enormous march on Washington. View our site and blog, LegalizeGay.com for more information about our stance on gay rights.
At American Apparel we try to do everything possible to minimize our ecological footprint. By creating organic products, our business minimizes its impact on the environment, while maintaining the same comfort and style American Apparel is known for. Our Organic Collection is a selection of our most popular styles made from 100% USDA Certified Organic and pesticide-free cotton.
Benefits to Our Process
Our low-impact dyeing process eliminates chemical waste, providing innumerable environmental and health benefits. We use a low impact fiber reactive process to dye our organic cotton. This process uses the least amount of water when compared with all other dye processes available and the cotton absorbs over 70% of the dyestuff. The dye forms a direct linkage to the cotton fiber resulting in superior colorfastness and minimal run-off.
At American Apparel, our Organic Collection color T-shirts are dyed with low impact dye which meet industry standards for organic. It is not a requirement to label organic fibers, unlike organic foods. However, legitimacy is extremely important within the organic community. Subcommittees have formed out of already established certifying groups, mostly associated with agriculture communities. These subcommittees work together to maintain a credible level of checks and balances for companies interested in meeting a set standard and offer a guarantee the consumer can trust. Our color organics are created within the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).
Cleaner Cotton Campaign
American Apparel joined the Cleaner Cotton Campaign by buying 30,000 pounds of Cleaner Cotton (also known as B.A.S.I.C. cotton) to incorporate into our non-organic line. The Cleaner Cotton Campaign, led by the Sustainable Cotton Project, was created to offer farmers profitable strategies for reducing chemical use in cotton cultivation. The program also avoids the use of genetically modified seeds. In 2007, the California Environmental Protection Agency reported that 2,000 acres of Cleaner Cotton were grown, preventing 7,000 pounds of chemicals from infiltrating our environment.
We strive to be as efficient as possible, creating as little waste as we can. Scrap fabric is turned into yarn for new garments when possible or used by our custodial team for cleaning. Our knit and dye houses participate alongside our warehouse headquarters to divert remaining fabric and yarn scraps, paper, plastic, wooden pallets, cardboard tubes and cones, metal and electronic waste from landfills.
Innovative and Creative Reuse
We love putting creative ideas into practice. American Apparel donates truckloads of safe and curious excess materials to Trash for Teaching (TFT), a non-for-profit organization. TFT educates over 100 LA schools about resource management at the manufacturing level. Students make crafts from excess materials, while learning why reuse is the first step to sustainable practice. At the warehouse, we take notes on spiral pads made from old advertising and display materials, as well as the clean paper waste from offices and our Graphics Department. Our cardboard boxes are collected and reused as many times as possible rather than processed into pulp, saving energy and chemical inputs. We use recycled fiber yarns, made from our own fabric scrap, back into American Apparel product lines as hats and ties, with even more to come.
Energy and Water Efficiency
We executed a full retrofit of light fixtures in our factory and implemented daylight-harvesting technology, a move that saves over a million kilowatt hours of energy each year. We are also examining how to improve the efficiency of our industrial air compressors, bathroom fixtures and further modifications to our low-impact dye process that will address water filtration and energy sources.
We are always looking for more ecologically sound materials and services. Our catalogs are printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper with non-toxic inks. American Apparel is beginning to incorporate sustainable fabrics such as bamboo and recycled polyester into our product line. We are always looking into more recycled blends to integrate into our main line.
American Apparel houses a state-of-the-art solar panel installation on the roof of our downtown LA factory. This system generates 150 kilowatts of clean, renewable power, contributing 15% of our energy needs.
We enacted a bike lending program in 2005. We’ve recently increased the number of bicycles, helmets and locks that we have on hand, assuring that this free service is accessible to even more employees. We also provide a subsidized bus pass program available to employees.
For more info or to see their latest looks visit store.americanapparel.net.