Dov Charney

The Resurrection of Dov Charney

Dov Charney paces across the bedroom in a bathrobe and sweatpants, flip-flops and socks. “Don’t worry, I know this business!” he says, nearly yelling into his phone. He’s unshaven, and his sandals slap the travertine floor as he walks. “Trust me! I’ve sold $5 billion of apparel!”

It’s February 2016, barely a month since a judge ruled that Charney had failed to win back American Apparel, the company that suspended him 20 months earlier, the company he built from scratch. It had been a bitter fight. There were lawsuits and demonstrations by workers protesting the new management, allegations of death threats. As ever, Charney was a polarizing figure. Some saw a progressive visionary who paid his workers a decent wage and proved that textile jobs didn’t need to be outsourced for a company to make a profit. Others saw a sexist “troglodyte” (the Web site Jezebel) who slept with staffers half his age and whose recklessness destroyed the business.

A sewing factory in downtown Los Angeles

Fashion Without Conscience: A Story of Modern Slavery

Before dawn six days a week, Norma Ulloa left the two-bedroom apartment she shared with four family members and boarded a bus that took her to a stifling factory on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. She spent 11 hours a day there, pinning Forever 21 tags on trendy little shirts and snipping away their loose threads in the one-room workshop. On a good day, the 44-year-old could get through 700 shirts.

That work earned Ulloa about $6 an hour, well below minimum wage in Los Angeles, according to a wage claim she filed with the state.