American Apparel has built its brand on being provocative – in the past the Advertising Standards Authority has described its sexually provocative advertisements as “pornographic”, “gratuitous” and “voyeuristic” and accused of them of “sexualising minors”. Once again the company, which officially filed for bankruptcy last month, is in hot water – though this time it’s for its staff uniform, not its ads.
According to The Mary Sue, the company encouraged its sales associates to wear t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Ask Me to Take It All Off” for Black Friday. While the publication’s source initially understood this to be a mandatory requirement, staff were reportedly given the option of wearing a button with the same slogan.
“I understand that American Apparel, the corporation, doesn’t see me as a real person and aims to commodify my sexuality in order to sell their product,” the source told The Mary Sue. “I still work for them because in the past, I have always had discretion about how I choose to present myself at work (so long as I wear AA head to toe).”
“Now they are actively encouraging our patrons to sexually harass me and my colleagues, some of whom are as young as 15,” they continued. “A lot of our retail workforce is made up of high-school aged girls. There’s no question in my mind that anyone wearing the shirt will face inappropriate comments from customers.”
The t-shirt in question has now been discontinued by the brand who issued an apology saying that the slogan was intended to be a “play on words”. “We understand that this offended an individual employee who spoke up about his/her concerns. American Apparel is a company that values free speech, and most importantly, creating an environment where employees feel valued, protected, and safe. As such, we have decided to discontinue this slogan and will seek other ways to stay creative and push the envelope, which is part of our brand DNA.”
In a sense, this news is surprising because the brand has been attempting to shed its provocative reputation since Paula Schneider replaced founder Dov Charney as CEO in January. “As a woman and a feminist, I want to celebrate women and ensure whatever we are doing doesn’t denigrate women,” she told the Guardian earlier this month.