As someone who practically lived at American Apparel during its heyday in the mid 1990’s to early 2000’s, shopping mainly for my daughter, I was very interested to hear what a former insider would say about the company. STRIP TEES proved to be both a provocative and very candid memoir about the almost cult-like atmosphere that pervaded the company culture and ultimately, led to its downfall.
Recent college grad Kate Flannery was initially seduced by the supportive atmosphere of the company: “𝘏𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘸𝘦 𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘥 𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘶𝘱.. 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦, 𝘸𝘦’𝘭𝘭 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥 𝘵𝘰𝘨𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳.” That was actually the company mantra, referred to as “the hustle”. At the center of the edgy and subversive corporate culture was the charismatic founder Dov Charney, who had inappropriate relationships with many of the young American Apparel employees but who managed to hold them all in his rather manic orbit.
Dov respected no boundaries and ultimately the author, a self-described feminist, ended up staying with the company longer than she probably should have. She was a valued member of the team and made an impact in the company’s early glory days. Dov’s spectacular fall from grace isn’t dissected in detail here; instead, this is a very real account from a young woman who thankfully survived the toxic atmosphere that was American Apparel.
I view the company’s once-edgy ads through a different lens now, but at the time they were considered ground-breaking. Highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author herself!
“𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘸𝘢𝘴𝘯’𝘵 𝘢 𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘰𝘭𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯. 𝘐𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘫𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘢 𝘵𝘦𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘳𝘵 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘱𝘢𝘯𝘺.”
(Thanks to the publisher for the audiobook listening copy, provided in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.)
About the Book:
Strip Tees is a fever dream of a memoir—Hunter S. Thompson meets Gloria Steinem—about a recent college graduate and what happens when her feminist ideals meet the real world.
At the start of the new millennium, LA is the place to be. Hipster is a new word on the scene. Lauren Conrad is living her Cinderella story on The Hills on millions of television sets across the country. Paris Hilton tells us “That’s hot” from behind the biggest sunglasses imaginable, while beautiful teenagers fight and fall in love in The O.C.
Into this most glittering of supposed utopias, Kate Flannery arrives with a Seven Sisters diploma in hand and a new job at an upstart clothing company called American Apparel. Kate throws herself into the work, determined to climb the corporate fashion ladder. Having a job at American Apparel also means being a part of the advertising campaigns themselves, stripping down in the name of feminism.
She slowly begins to lose herself in a landscape of rowdy sex-positivity, racy photo shoots, and a cult-like devotion to the unorthodox CEO and founder of the brand. The line between sexual liberation and exploitation quickly grows hazy, leading Kate to question the company’s ethics and wrestle with her own.
Strip Tees captures a moment in our recent past that’s already sepia toned in nostalgia, and also paints a timeless portrait of a young woman who must choose between what business demands and self-respect requires.