Dov Charney might be out of American Apparel, but his ethos remains.
According to Jezebel, the company asked retail employees to wear t-shirts with the words “Ask Me to Take It All Off” on Black Friday. The site’s source was an anonymous employee, who said that the company was “actively encouraging our patrons to sexually harass [her] and [her] colleagues.” “There’s no question in my mind that anyone wearing the shirt will face inappropriate comments from customers,” she told Jezebel.
The employee noted that this kind of request was typical of American Apparel (APP) under the leadership of founder and former CEO Dov Charney, who was repeatedly accused of subjecting employees to sexual harassment and discriminating against less attractive staff. “You engaged in conduct that repeatedly put yourself in a position to be sued by numerous former employees for claims that include harassment, discrimination and assault,” read Charney’s termination letter, which was later filed as a court document.
Charney was ousted from the company in June 2014. When Paula Schneider, who previously led a turnaround at Warnaco, the world’s largest swimsuit manufacturer, took the reins in January of this year, there was an expectation that the sexual harassment that was prevalent during the Charney years would be a thing of the past. Earlier this month, Schneider told The Guardian that she did not approve of Charney’s way of using sex to sell t-shirts. “As a woman and a feminist, I want to celebrate women and ensure whatever we are doing doesn’t denigrate women,” she told the publication.
So asking employees to “take it all off” is a celebration? An American Apparel spokesperson responded to Fortune with the following statement:
“This slogan on these tee shirts—which were distributed to both male and female employees as optional—was originally intended to be a play on words to engage customers during our Black Friday Sale, which features an additional 50 percent off items that are already marked down 50 percent. We understand that this offended an individual employee who spoke up about his/her concerns. American Apparel is a company that values free speech, and most importantly, creating an environment where employees feel valued, protected, and safe. As such, we have decided to discontinue encouraging employees to wear this slogan and will seek other ways to stay creative and push the envelope, which is part of our brand DNA.”
The store is not the first to be in hot water for insensitive messaging this holiday season. A few weeks ago, luxury department store Bloomingdale’s was called out for a print ad that was seen as encouraging date rape. The ad read: “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking,” and showed an image of a man looking surreptitiously at a beautiful woman.
When will retailers learn that in order for sex to sell, it must be consensual?
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