American Apparel fights the 'made in America' fight. For how long? - latimes.com -
June 3, 2012
"Ofelia Lopez scrutinizes the hem on a hot-pink shirt fresh off the assembly line, making sure the stitching is just right. All around her, rows of workers rapidly attach sleeves, adhere labels and churn out piles of garments. Lopez, a Guatemala native, has worked in the apparel industry for 22 years. Now a team supervisor, she keeps a watchful eye on her group toiling on a vast factory floor, where the whir of sewing machines and the hiss of industrial steam irons drown out most other sounds. This could be a clothing factory in Guatemala, China or Vietnam. But it's in an industrial area of downtown Los Angeles, where American Apparel Inc. is engaged in an epic — and, so far, money-losing — struggle to prove that clothes can still be made for a profit in America. Photos: American Apparel The company's seven-story factory, a former Southern Pacific Railway freight depot, is the biggest garment-making facility in the U.S., according to an industry trade group. Here, 4,500 workers staggered over two shifts cut, sew, fold, box and ship clothes to the company's 253 stores and other clothiers worldwide. American Apparel may be best known for its hip stores, racy ads and controversial chief executive, Dov Charney. But this factory and the thousands it employs are what truly make the company stand out, said Sarah Y. Friedman, executive director of the National Assn. for the Sewn Products Industry. Few other U.S. clothing manufacturers employ more than a few hundred workers, she noted. "American Apparel is very, very remarkable," she said. "Anytime you have a retailer with thousands of employees still in the U.S. — that is pretty remarkable." At the helm is Charney, 43, an outspoken advocate for local manufacturing who founded the company 14 years ago. In a recent interview he acknowledged pressure from other company executives, board members and consultants to move manufacturing abroad. "I want to prove myself," he said, "and I want to prove 'made in America' is a smart...