Appalling Apparel? U.K. Bans American Apparel Ads for the Sixth Time

The controversial retailer refuses to curb its hypersexual ads, and some are asking: Is it publicity they're after?

(Photo: Twitter)

Sep 3, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Nicole Pasulka is a writer and reporter who lives in New York City. She has written for Mother Jones, BuzzFeed, The Believer, and the New York Observer.

The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Agency announced yesterday that it is banning American Apparel's "Back to School" ad campaign in which a seemingly young model bends over in a plaid schoolgirl skirt.

This makes sense if you're into banning ads. It's pretty gross and seems to glorify or trade in the sex appeal of girls. The U.K. agency thinks the ad is more focused on "butts" and "groins" than the clothing advertised, and so, for the sixth time in two-and-a-half years, it banned an American Apparel ad this week, according to Business Standard.

Last year, after another set of ads was banned in the U.K., American Apparel claimed that these bans were just a publicity ploy on the part of the ASA.

"The ASA grandstands on the AA name to get publicity, and that's why they repeatedly come after the company," an anonymous source from American Apparel's corporate team told Racked. "We've been doing these ads for 10 years. Who are they to say what is and isn't appropriate?"

American Apparel does have things to be legitimately proud of. It's one of the few big clothing manufacturers with production sites in the United States. While some ads in Los Angeles tout the company's local factories and jobs, in the rest of the country and around the world, American Apparel has built a large part of its brand on ad campaigns that lead to bans in the U.K. and interpersonal behavior that leads to lawsuits.

One could defend ads like these as provocative tongue-in-cheek jokes, but recent leaks and stories suggest that people at American Apparel seem to be playing harassment for keeps.

Despite ousting founder and CEO Dov Charney in June for a long list of indiscretions (paying hush money to employees, misusing company funds, and saying racist, sexist, and homophobic things), American Apparel still seems pretty seedy. Just ask the anonymous woman who wrote a diary for Gawker about the 21 days she spent working for the company. She'd heard some scary stories about workers being harassed at the stores, but "because he had recently been asked to step down from his position, it seemed like the company was making progress."

The account of her time there documents creepy customers, racist managers, and rampant abuse and unprofessionalism. It suggests that, at least at the store level, not much has changed. Even Charney hasn't stayed away. Gawker reported in July that he was back working with the company as a consultant.