Today on Business Rockstars, Ken Rutkowski talks with founder and CEO of American Apparel, Dov Charney. A college dropout, he borrowed $10,000 from his father and used it to start his own clothing company. American Apparel now has 273 store locations, over 11,000 employees, and has revenues of over $540 million.
American Apparel founder and Chief Executive Officer Dov Charney is one of fashion’s leading innovators. His vision of a vertically integrated, sweatshop-free company was realized in downtown Los Angeles in 1997. Today, the company stands as the America’s largest domestic clothing manufacturer, a remarkable feat considering Charney is an immigrant himself. Offering garment workers the highest wages, health care and benefits in the industry, Charney presided over the fastest retail roll out in American history, buoyed by a workforce that produces over 1.4 million garments a week. It was a long journey for the boy who began smuggling Hanes t-shirts across the Canadian border in 1989, dropped out of college in 1990 and borrowed $10,000 from his father to start an apparel company. With over 9,000 employees across the world, he remains integrally related to the daily direction of the company, designing, photographing and even testing many of the clothes himself. Charney is engrossed in the everyday operations of American Apparel, habitually visiting retail stores (which he often personally designs) and walking the factory floor to motivate employees and encourage top to bottom communication. And he does it without a personal assistant. Since taking the company public in late 2007, he has continued to be passionately interested in knowing the faces of all his employees. As part of the special acquisition, Charney allotted 2.7 million shares of the company to his workers and employees. It is this open, innovative and free-flowing environment that Charney credits for his company’s success and productivity.
Combining his socially conscious agenda with shrewd, savvy business acumen, Charney’s work has been recognized repeatedly for both American Apparel’s accomplishments as well as his commitment to his employees. Ernst & Young named Charney Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004 and Apparel Magazine, the Fashion Industry Guild and the Ad Specialty Industry all separately deemed him “Man of the Year”. Charney was included in the Los Angeles Times “100 Most Powerful People of Southern California” list and Details Magazine inducted him to their “Power 50″. In the first annual Los Angeles Fashion Awards, Charney was recognized for Excellence in Marketing and in 2008 an independent research report placed American Apparel as the Top Trendsetting Brand, second only to Nike. Following in the footsteps of fashion legends Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, and Oscar de la Renta, among others, Charney was also named Retailer of the Year at the 15th Annual Michael Awards for the Fashion Industry.