American Apparel vs. Western Union

This isn’t your typical ill-fitting tee shirt. It’s American Apparel. 

As an owner of two American Apparel tees, I can affirm these shirts fit well. We know they fashion comfortable garb, but we also know their clothes are “crafted with pride in the USA.”

Out of the limelight, a financial services company lurks in mystery. We see Western Union signs everywhere, but I’m guessing like me, you’ve never been a customer. Earlier this year, I pitched TOMS Shoes vs. Whole Foods in a corporate do-gooder analysis. Today’s matchup? American Apparel vs. Western Union.

American Apparel

Activists flock to American Apparel (AA) products, drawn to their fashion-forward designs and ethical business practices. AA lauds how they “pioneer industry standards of social and environmental responsibility in the workplace.” They pay their factory workers well and give back to Los Angeles, their home city. They construct quality products.

If that was the whole story, I would hail their greatness. But it’s not. They do some things well, but their problems plunge deeper than even the deepest of their v-neck man tees.

Frankly, the more I learn about American Apparel, the less I like. As a person of faith, I find AA’s blatant disregard for decency appalling. The New York Times described their marketing as “sexually charged.” AA categorizes it as “provocative.” It’s sadly ironic they are a clothing company because their ads feature very little of it. This edginess appeals to their  customers, but it isn’t winsome. It’s willfully vulgar. “Controversial as [our marketing] may be, we’ll continue to give our core audience what they crave,” their website flaunts.

Their (lack of) corporate values start at the top. Founder and CEO, Dov Charney is a real class-act. He’s called the “Hugh Hefner of retailing, decorating his stores with covers of Penthouse magazine” and he shamelessly and unapologetically exploits his female employees. Call me a prude, but I think AA cheapens women. From their leadership to their marketing, AA distills the value of women down to their dimensions. And that, to me, flies in the face of good American business and true social responsibility.

Speaking of being American, their worshiped manufacturing process drips with arrogance. I believe in free markets and believe healthy market economies are the “best broken system” to continue to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty globally. AA positions their advertising as if the only way to run an ethical company is to hire American laborers. It’s not. That’s bad economics and it flies in the face of great global companies like Gap and Apple that use global manufacturing facilities to create great jobs in developing countries.

It’s fine for companies to tout their Americanism–and for consumers to buy local–but don’t suggest companies which do otherwise are villains. This protectionist tone incites Americans (both progressives and conservatives, which baffles me on both counts, but that’s another topic) against our global neighbors. Since when is helping provide jobs for poor people in other countries unAmerican (or unChristian, for that matter)?


Western Union

Western Union pops up in the worst places. Their outlets populate seamy strip malls and dimly lit corner stores. I associate these Western Union outlets with pawn shops, money lenders and liquor stores, retailers that victimize on the chronic poverty found in these neighborhoods. While it may have been fair to accuse Western Union of this twenty years ago, it isn’t any longer.

On an evening drive recently, I did a quick stop at Western Union with my friend Clarisse, a Congolese refugee. We pulled up to a gas station and she jumped out. A minute later, she slid back in the car. Transaction complete: She had just sent $50 to her aging mother in Brazzaville, Congo. That $50 was her mother’s only income that week.

Later in the evening, her mom called. The money had arrived. Today, over $200 million will change hands though over one million transactions, just like the $50 Clarisse sent to her mom. Western Union sustains families through these transactions. In Haiti, over half of the national income comes through these transactions–––remittances–––and has been a lifeblood for millions of struggling families. They’re safely transmitting billions of dollars to and from remote places like Congo, Somalia and Laos. And, they’re doing so with transparency in their pricing.

They have outlets in every country in the entire world. They treat and pay their 7,000 employees well. And, they give generously, granting over $70M to innovative nonprofits that “connect families with economic opportunity,” aligning closely with the heartbeat of Western Union’s core business. These agencies include many top microfinance organizations (before you think I’m biased, they haven’t given to HOPE yet, but hopefully someday!). Western Union understands their unique contribution to the world–––safely transmitting money globally between loved ones–and they promote human flourishing through the opportunities they create.


The Verdict

It is a charade to claim American Apparel is a socially conscious company. They quietly erode the worth of women and loudly abhor real American values. Still, Christians line up  to print their graphics on these “ethically manufactured” tees. In contrast, Western Union makes the world a dramatically better place for poor families with very little fanfare. This match-up isn’t even a contest: Western Union scores a first-round knockout.

[box_info]Sound Off: Do you agree or disagree? What is your stance on American Apparel’s advertising. Let us know in the comments. Want another corporate showdown? Check out TOMS Shoes vs. Whole Foods. [/box_info]

Five Ways To Improve Your Style

Men's Style

Ratty t-shirt. Sweatpants. White socks. Baseball cap. Another ratty t-shirt. Does this sound familiar? I pray to the Lord that it doesn’t… but if it does, I am here to help. I’m not asking you to make a radical switch, but I present five simple ways to improve your style. After all, I’ve never heard a woman tell me, “Wow Jayson, I wish you’d wear more Ed Hardy.” Boom.

[Your girlfriend/fiance/future-wife/woman-of-your-dreams will thank you. Trust me.]

1. Throw out every white undershirt you own.

Trust me here.

Ever heard of bacon neck? Hanes has… and they even produced a commercial about the former-quality of their useless undershirts. This is the least of your worries.

The white undershirt is unnecessary. It has no place. It’s the male version of seeing a woman’s bra through her blouse… except they don’t think it’s sexy. It screams, “I am 11 and my mother has dressed me on this day!”

Drop them. They can’t be worn under any type of men’s shirting, and they’re too ratty to be worn alone. Do you remember how, if used long enough, the underarm area gets all wrinkly and yellow? People see that.

There’s no easier way to get written off as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, than to wear a white undershirt. Pick a graphic tee or wear a men’s shirt. Not both.

2. Buy a watch.

Before you throw up your arms… I’m not asking you to procure a $25,000 Breitling. This is attainable.

Let me clarify too:

This is not “a watch.” In fact, maybe it’s a watch in some circles, but really you’re looking for a timepiece. A good place to start is a Timex, like this Military Watch from J.Crew. It has a black face, with changeable straps, and is extremely durable. The reason I love this watch is because of its’ versatility, though. I own seven different watchbands, in varying colors that are suited for most every occasion: black, black/silver, tan, navy, and so on.

You can find vintage Timex pieces on eBay or you can even go the cheaper route and shop Target for some easily customizable Timex-brand watches. These watches also use the same watchbands from J.Crew.

A canvas watchband with a buckle closure is very easy to clean and maintain. It is an excellent transition into the timepiece arena, and will set you up nicely for something more expensive, like this Citizen Eco Drive.

3. Purchase a pair of boat shoes.

This is your intermediary step to men’s shoes. The classic boat shoe is, well, classic. It can be worn sockless. With pants. Without pants.

The Sebago Spinnaker boat shoe.

The boat shoe is great because it doesn’t require the investment of a small village to purchase some loafers from Ralph Lauren or Del Toro. My Sperry Topsiders have lasted longer than any shoe I’ve ever had, so it’s a testament to the durability of an all-leather shoe. Furthermore, you can escape the stage of wearing just sneakers and flip flops.

4. Understand what a button-down is, and then buy a few.

It’s time to set the record straight: a button-down is not any men’s shirt. A button down is a type of collar.

One time, many years ago, I was publicly reproved by an older man inside Nordstrom’s. I said I was looking for a few “button downs.” He took me to the button down collars, and when I said I wanted something different, he told me, “This is what you said you wanted!”

I learned something that day. There is a difference.

Call it a shirt. A t-shirt can be a ‘tee’ or a t-shirt.

On that note, pick up a few button downs. They are less dressy than a straight collar and more durable (because the collar is essentially pinned to the neck, it can’t lose its’ shape). Here are two great choices from J.Crew: The mini-ginghamThe sun-faded solid oxford.

5. Commit to buy a new belt every year.

Speaking collectively for men as a whole: we need more belts. As I grew up, I probably had two belts (black and brown). I’ve spent the past five years trying to compensate, and even so, I might have ten belts total (and of those ten, I might wear three). Belts aren’t a huge monetary investment, but a good belt will last forever.

The reasoning for buying a new belt once a year is two-fold. First, it’s a great barometer for your overall level of fitness. If you need to wear a 34 instead of a 32, you might have incentive to avoid jumping up a size. Also, it let’s you experiment. When you’re buying a belt once in forever, you’re likely replacing that standard-issue black or brown belt.

Having the ability to branch out into other colors or patterns gives you the opportunity to be different. Different is good.

Also of note: Needlepoint belts. They’re expensive, but awesome. There’s no better way to say I love the Charles River, Kiawah Island golfingor lacrosse, than these belts:

The Iroquois Lacrosse Needlepoint Belt from Tucker Blair - $65

More from Tucker Blair here. And also Smathers & Branson.


[Photo: Aditya Rakhman (cover)]