recently there have been many burblings on topics i normally would have much to comment on, but haven’t had the will or the energy for. namely, all the american apparel outpourings of scandalous employee restrictions and derek blasberg allegedly asking ysl to front him some cash for a party he was already compensated by style.com to cover.
why? i’ve asked myself. why are these companies no one claims to like (current financial statements support this as well) and writers no one claims to read (don’t think anyone who pays him cares whether it’s quality writing or not. we have so little good fashion journalism, we take what we can & read it anyway.) matter? so i reasoned i would just let them go, as they don’t…not to me, at least. by giving them attention, i’m simply acknowledging that they are, even in some tiny way, relevant. besides, other people, especially on jezebel, have already made a lot of intelligent points on the subjects & covered what i’ve wanted to say.
but still, it seems, there’s one problem i haven’t seen covered. many people, whether they are mounting arguments in defense or no seem to reason, “other people do it, so what is the problem?” and this is a comment i cannot abide. let’s break it down, as these are different cases.
with american apparel the problem is largely with the dress codes & policing employee’s personal hygiene/looks. (i’m not going to address anything which seems to be hearsay here, although it any of those allegations are true…) yes, it is true many companies enforce some sort of a dress code, usually to make sure employees are neat & well-groomed. fine. however, the problem herein is largely in the way this particular company attempts to enforce the dress code, such as telling employees that glasses frames must be updated (although perhaps not everyone has the cash to buy a new pair, particularly as they’re working retail & not earning much) and that they may have no visible body art (never mind that it’s fairly certain the core american apparel customer doesn’t mind or already has tattoos/piercings. and if that one doesn’t work, most high fashion models do. tattoos are visible on the chanel runway, as they are on many designer brands, none of which seem to mind, even if they’re a more sophisticated label.)
furthermore, when people try to advance the argument, “if you don’t like it, don’t work there”, i’m very frustrated. as someone who has been forced by circumstance on more than one occasion to hold a retail job, it’s not always that easy. sometimes you simply need the money & it doesn’t help that so many of these companies feel they can tell you what (or what not) to put on your skin & look in your urine before they decide you’re capable of running a cash register. i’ve shopped at am apparel on various occasions in the past & sincerely do not remember what the employees looked like. because i don’t care. because they have nothing to do with either me or my life and certainly nothing to do with whether the company carries type of pants i’m attempting to locate for that evening. however, they can be nice/helpful. this is sincerely more important at this level of the game than whether i might find them “offensive” (or whatever they’re going for) by the sight of a gauge or presence of liquid foundation.
it is frankly very frustrating to have people (ahem, ny mag, ahem) announce that a job-seeker should just go look for other employment, particularly at more interesting stores such as patricia field. yes, i’m sure we’d all of us love to work there, or some random vintage store or boutique where we’re treated like family, but not all of us have the option. first of all, there is competition for those jobs, as people know how much better it would be than working for american apparel, in pay if not just in perks. additionally, there aren’t as many companies like that around as there are am aps & abercrombies & american eagles, which is all the more reason those companies need to change. it’s not just about a dress code, it’s about not policing the lives of your employees, whom are being paid less-than-living wages, anyway. but instead, despite being treated as less than an adult, one has to make that low-paying job the center of the universe. and remember that journalists are hunched about, waiting to hear gossip at nearby foodcourt tables. to some extent, surely a dress code is reasonable. but to strip away any pretense of employees’ personality is just ridiculous, particularly as in this case, american apparel is calling out minor issues that few would notice, anyway. and probably offending customers with their stringent stance on how employees (and thereby the ideal ‘american apparel person’) should look.
then there is the matter of blasberg. many people, including the biased fashionista, have defended him, alleging that getting some type of compensation for editorial coverage is merely part of the game. maybe it is, and maybe it’s not…i don’t really know, as in my professional writing career, i’ve never been advanced anything. (although i should add here that once, when working for a retailer, a particular company gave me two free pairs of shoes. although i wasn’t partial to the styles, i was so flattered i’ve since looked fondly on that manufacturer. it’s human nature, i think, to repay a “kindness” with “kindness”, remembering those who do you favors more fondly than those who don’t. whatever you want to say about being impartial, it’s harder when you’re in that situation.) but the question still remains: just because it may be done, is it right?
to put it as fucking bluntly as possible, no. and i think that’s a fallacious argument, merely put forward by the disaffected or those who are afraid their perks may be revoked in the midst of such a scandal. and even is blasberg is called out, will it continue? probably. and will it still have been worth it, this blood sacrifice? hell yes. one might argue that there is political corruption in any organization or industry, with whipping-boys dragged out from time to time to be made example of. certainly this doesn’t clean up the entire practice, but at least the people can feel there is some semblance of integrity, that no one can flagrantly disobey the rules without paying some price for it.
and if blasberg is left alone, with everything hushed up, how will we be affected? i believe we’ll all shuffle away, mutterings continuing to haunt him for years, with each of us becoming just a little more cynical, a little more suspicious, feelling like the divide between “us and them”, or those who have power in the fashion industry, is just a little bit greater, that they are so insulated nothing save an actual crime can dethrone them. no lives will be wrecked, and probably, style.com will only lose a few readers. but will it advance the cause of fashion as a legitimate industry? no. will it help fashion journalism to rise in the ranks of society’s estimation of “good” writing? i hardly need to answer that.
i believe if we let these companies go with any mere “that’s how the world works”, we’re not only hurting the industry, we’re hurting ourselves. we’re not allowing ourselves the thought that we deserve better, that we deserve journalists who don’t, essentially, lie to us, or companies who blatantly discriminate. this is our world. we can shape it. but not if we just dismiss those things that make us angry, telling ourselves we can’t find anything better. we can. the revolution is now.