15 September 2011

American Apparel's "Next Big Thing" Winner Is....Not The Winner

In 2000 it was Bush/Gore, 2011 brings us the Nancy Upton/American Apparel voting mess. In both cases the person who received the most votes wasn't crowned the winner.

I need to backtrack a bit; the the big diss from AA to plus-sized women started back in April 2010 when April Flores was informed that AA didn't carry plus-sized items because "that's not our demographic." The story regarding that debacle can be found at Jezebel.

Fast forward to August 2011 when AA launches the dreadfully named: "The Next Big Thing"; a contest to find women to model styles that company deigned to carry in an XL...sizes 12-14...your eyes aren't fooling you. XL. Size 12-14. Contestants uploaded photos of themselves and were rated on a scale of 1-5; I'm still at a loss as to why a was rating needed to be assigned to the contestants; I guess voting wasn't enough.

Then along comes Nancy Upton, a beautiful woman who instead of being grateful of the decree that came from on high; that "select" items would be available to a few of us poor pitiful fashion-challenged souls (seriously...what would a woman over a size 12 know about fashion?), decides to enter the contest using this photo:

there is clearly a tongue-in-cheek vibe to the picture, which happens to garner the most votes thereby Nancy the winner of.....nothing.

Although Ms. Upton had the highest rating, the brain trusts over at AA felt it would be best to "award the prizes to other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out."

Nancy received a letter from AA's Creative Director Iris Alonzo; she didn't plan to make the letter public, but when Ms. Alonzo went public with it, Nancy did the same.

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

The tone of the letter is....ummm...rather brittle? Condescending? Patronizing? All of the above?

So what's the lesson here? Lesson #1: Those crazy kids over at AA may be zany and irreverent, but for those of us that wear a size 14 and beyond, we not only need to know our place (no spoofing for us big girls), we need to be grateful for any crumbs of acknowledgement; meaning don't bite the hand that throws the crumbs. Lesson #2: American Apparel needs a public relations person. That's all.


Thick Threads said...

thanks for posting this, its a great article, just shared it with more people. I cant even believe how disgusting AA are...

TDGM said...

Thank you for your support. You need to check out Nancy Upton's Tumblr: