At this point, it seems Dov Charney is better at making headlines than unisex tri-blend T-shirts. After years of rumors, allegations and lawsuits, the founder and CEO of struggling clothing giant American Apparel is finally out of the job. The company’s board of directors voted unanimously this week to strip Charney of his chairmanship and gave him the contractual 30-day notice for his complete termination. But anyone familiar with his history of controversy can’t help but wonder, why now?
Perhaps it has to do with American Apparel’s increasingly dismal financial performance. The company lost over $100 million in 2013, a deficit greater than the previous two years combined, and American Apparel has been in the red every year since 2010. A look back to 2008 shows that its stocks haven’t been doing too hot either. It would make sense if Charney’s termination was meant to mark a new financial direction for the once-booming Los Angeles company. In fact, Forbes reports that the announcement has already earned American Apparel’s stocks a nearly 20 percent surge of approval.
The true reason for Charney’s firing, however, is what many might have guessed: His unpredictable “playboy lifestyle,” plagued by problems of “personal conduct with women and poor judgement” has made him more than just a legal liability. Though Charney has been lauded for his refusal to outsource jobs to international sweatshops, it seems the board at American Apparel, which has previously defended the former CEO, is simply out of patience.
A quick review of Charney’s history makes one wonder why this decision didn’t come sooner. Although most of the sexual harassment lawsuits against him have been dropped, dismissed or settled out of court, spotting the trouble with Charney’s behavior hardly requires a degree in gender studies. He admits, and even defends, referring to women he works with as “sluts” and “whores.” He also sees no problem with dropping his pants, or eschewing them altogether, to show off his company’s product around the office.
That’s not all. Charney’s been accused of telling a Canadian student newspaper that “women initiate most domestic violence [claims] … and this has made a victim culture out of women.” A former employee who sued Charney alleged that the former CEO choked him, rubbed dirt in his face and called him a “fag” and a “wannabe Jew.” The Jane reporter sent to profile Charney ended up seeing him masturbate “eight or so times.”
American Apparel’s ads, some of which have been personally shot by Charney himself, have frequently come under fire for exploiting women as well. The most recent example, an image of a topless women meant to highlight the company’s fair labor practices, was selected to appear on the iconic “No Comment” page of Ms. magazine’s latest issue. Other ads have been banned for appearing to sexualize minors. Potential employees of American Apparel must submit full body photographs of themselves, with Charney allegedly combing through snapshots taken at the stores in order to identify and fire anyone deemed too unattractive to work there. The list goes on.
In the end, it’s important that American Apparel’s board of directors isn’t cloaking Charney’s dismissal in financial or business talk. For too long, apologists have rationalized Charney’s behavior as the product of his eccentric personality. It’s time for our society to stop accepting that as an excuse. Calling women sluts and whores doesn’t make you quirky, blaming survivors of domestic violence doesn’t make you edgy and exposing yourself around the office sure as hell doesn’t make you a good CEO.
James Hildebrand is a senior at Amherst College and editor-in-chief of the independent student blog AC Voice. He is interning this summer at Ms. magazine.