New clothing store highlights benefits

Elizabeth Gibson

No logos, no sweatshops, no outsourcing.

American Apparel, a company that sells a fitted, all-cotton clothing line, opens its third location in the Chicago area Feb. 7. The store, at 950 Church St., will fill the spot vacated by Corner Bakery in May.

“The vision is about young adults,” said company founder Dov Charney.

Evanston, he said, “fits the photo.”

American Apparel chose to open a store in downtown Evanston because of Northwestern’s proximity and because of the “feel” of the town, Charney said. The store will carry the same clothes as all other American Apparel stores, but its decor and architecture were designed with the location in mind.

With 40 new stores in 2004 and plans to open more this year, American Apparel has come far since its humble start.

Charney first developed the idea for logo-free apparel when he started importing blank shirts to Montreal and selling them to friends who wanted to print on them for concerts.

As the brand’s reputation grew, Charney developed a set of innovative policies.

American Apparel makes all of its products in a Los Angeles factory. The company pays factory workers an average wage of about $13 an hour, almost double California’s minimum wage. Employees also receive $8 a week in medical insurance and paid time off.

“There’s been an outsourcing movement,” he said. “This is a reversal.”

But Charney said despite the company’s employment practices, American Apparel’s motives revolve around quality more than philanthropy.

“The more you pay people the better they work,” Charney said.

He added that the company enjoys better quality control and faster turnaround by creating its own products.

And more control means a better fit, he said. But he warned that the clothes may work better for young people than baby boomers.

“It’s manufactured for young adults,” he said. “It’s a little smaller, more fitted.”

American Apparel’s racy advertising, which includes models wearing T-shirts without bras and close-ups of underwear-clad crotches, remains controversial.

But Charney said the ads reflect the American Apparel lifestyle.

“This is a company run by young adults for young adults,” he said. “We’re committed to making garments that people love to wear and people love to make.”

The line focuses on people’s need for the basics. With a low rotation of products, the company hopes customers will still find favorite products months after their first purchase. While T-shirts in a variety of colors and cuts remain one of the company’s best sellers, products range from underwear to skirts to men’s jackets.

Officials at Urban Outfitters, 921 Church St., declined to comment on the opening, and officials at the corporate offices did not return phone calls. American Apparel will be across the street from Urban Outfitters.

Some students say they are looking forward to the new store’s arrival in Evanston.

Communication senior Abby Dallett said she likes the idea of having an occasional alternative to Urban Outfitters.

“There aren’t many stores in Evanston that you can walk to from Northwestern,” Dallett said. “With the outsourcing going on, it’s great to have things made here — Americans buying American stuff.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].