I’ve owed everyone THE blog post about my trip to American Apparel for quite awhile now. Honestly, I haven’t been entirely sure what to say. The trip was incredible, with or without the tour. I got to see a ton of interesting people- models, designers, old friends- and do a lot of fun things. There was dancing and drinking and eating (oh, the food) and shopping and driving around in the beautiful weather.
The tour was, for the most part, many hours of factual information and sights. Seeing fabric get made. Seeing fabric get dyed. Seeing fabric sewn into t-shirts. Then meeting tons of faces in the corporate offices at such a break-neck speed that, really, I can’t say I remember many of them. Lots of “Oh, here’s Steve in PR, he’s the best, hi Steve- Oh, there’s Veronica, she makes the best cookies, hey Veronica!”
I have lots of video footage of this, but Iris Alonzo expressed her concern that showing anything filmed inside the factory might reveal some super secret t-shirt making process that they have (that now lives deep inside the recesses of my feeble brain), and so I agreed that any of it I wanted to post on the blog, I would show her first.
I thought a lot about that over the last week. After awhile, I realized it wasn’t sitting with me very well. I don’t like the idea of having whatever content I want to post on my own blog approved by someone else. Also- it’s pretty boring. It’s factory stuff, which was interesting in person, but on film translates to giant machines covered in hazy smoke and LOTS of loud noise.
After the factory tour and the office tour, we sat down with the creative team who organized the “Next BIG Thing” contest. They were less than thrilled to meet me, I’ll tell you that. I took pretty excellent notes because, of course, my video camera died right before the meeting. Iris videotaped the meeting as well, but for some reason, her video footage doesn’t have any sound on it.
I was very happy with the way the meeting went. Despite the icy feelings from some of the women (which, I mean, are pretty understandable in a personal context), I felt like we had a really interesting discussion about marketing to plus-size women (hint: they’re made of flesh and blood just like you, market to them the same way you market to everyone, unless of course your entire marketing strategy has your company hemorrhaging money) and about where the contest went wrong.
When I came home almost two weeks ago now, I needed a couple of days to debrief and think things over. I actually canceled an interview with NPR, and they were nice enough to reschedule it to earlier this week. Thank you, NPR.
At first, I just needed to make sense of everything that had happened. There were some very surreal moments (“very surreal” meaning drinking tequila until 5 AM with Iris and Marsha, our two American Apparel creative directors and tour guides) and some very meaningful ones. At one point towards the end of the contest discussion, one employee looked like she was going to cry. Say what you want about the advertising, CEO and product (Lord knows I do), there are strong, passionate people behind this company, who I truly think mean the best in what they do and how they operate as a business.
That being said, something still felt off about the whole thing. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what it was, but I felt like the American Apparel team sort of sat down me and Shannon and said, “So, what do you want to know?”
Which, I guess I understand. Except, I think they wanted people to believe the whole point of bringing me out there was for THEM to ask ME about plus-size marketing and discussion.
Days started to slip by. I started to restitch some of my normal routine back together (being single, rehearsing improv, eating frozen food, buying cat food), while the last bits of this whirlwind adventure would die down, and then crop back up, and then die down again. I still wasn’t putting my effort into this big blog post, and I felt so depressed and unmotivated to do it. What was I supposed to say to put a button on this entire experience?
"OH, we went, it was neat, we had a half hour chat and ate cream puffs?"
I needed to find a way to best express what I had seen: small company with a lot of heart does consumers wrong through CEO mishaps and advertising screw-ups, grows too fast, doesn’t have enough experience to backpedal.
And, I guess most ridiculous of all- I had a REALLY good feeling about where the company would go after my trip. Maybe it was an ego thing on my part, because I did have so many people ask my opinions while I was there. Maybe it was just a naive side of me that is still alive and well, and believes that consumers can be more than just that in a company’s eyes. Maybe I’d just been really well convinced by what I’d been sold.
Iris and I traded a few more emails after the trip. In one, she stated that she and Marsha had continued the discussion about what had gone on with the contest after my trip was over, and how she only wished I could have had more time with them and was there anything I’d like to add? Do I feel we discussed enough?
I said that I was more or less satisfied, explained that we’d never really had a “set goal” or “resolution” to come to, that it was an organic, evolving thing. But was there something else she wanted to discuss?
I spent the last week debating whether or not to post her email response on my blog. I generally don’t think it’s an okay thing to do, even if there’s no privacy warning or banner at the bottom of the email (which there isn’t), I feel like there’s some unwritten rule that says it’s private information. In this experience, we’ve also learned how foolish it can be to publicize thoughts or feelings without having someone proofread them first, or tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey, that might be a terrible idea you’ve got cooking there.”
That being said, I’m going to do it. Here’s why: there’s nothing more telling or informative I can write then one simple sentence in this email, which shows exactly how important this issue must be on the minds of the American Apparel team. And based on that level of importance? I have no desire to write anything further about the company- a shame, because I had started to grow some really, REALLY nice opinions.
"Marsha and I were trying to remember what we even talked about, and amidst all of the late night fun and cream puffs (compounded by the fact that we couldn’t re-watch the video of the meeting), we can hardly remember what was said at all."
Regarding “late night fun”- we all went out drinking together one night (more than 48 hours pre-factory tour), and the contest DID come up- and, Iris videotaped THAT as well, so if footage, with or without sound appears online of me being completely drunk and being very passionate about the beauty standard in America, welp, I’m a 24-year old chubby girl, it won’t be the first or last time that happens.
Regarding “cream puffs”- American Apparel served us cream puffs while we had our round table discussion on the contest. The irony of this is not lost on me, I assure you. However, it was at least thirty minutes of discussion. Thirty minutes of discussion where I, as well as several American Apparel employees, took notes. Apparently, having food to snack on during the meeting was way too distracting for any of us to get our points across.
So, to recap:
This company spent thousands of dollars flying Shannon and I to LA, to meet with their team and they can’t even remember what we discussed. Nor do they care to. They want me to write something happy go-lucky about how positive our meeting was for women everywhere, and then they want to sign off on it, you know, in case I forget anything.
Well, news fucking flash: that’s not what I’m doing. I said that I would write about what I saw no matter what it was, and the three sentences of that email tell more truth about what went on in this bizarro adventure than anything I saw in that factory or those offices.
I had a couple of websites offer to run this blog, or run the email, but I figured I’d do it here, on my own. I wanted to be able to write what I felt and exactly how I felt it, and let the repercussions of that fall squarely on my shoulders, just in case there are any.
If there’s anything else I could possibly have to say (for I’ve certainly said a lot), it’s that I started this journey on what was a big (ha) joke about perception. The way we see other people defines them for us, more than any other form you can know or interact with a person.
My perception about this company was basically “they know not what they do.” Then I met a lot of them, and it changed to, “they know not what they do, but boy are they trying to fix that.” Now, it’s somewhere along the lines of “how can you possibly not understand what you do?” I hope they figure it out.
I wish the people I met all the best, and for me, this subject matter is closed.