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American Apparel CEO Dov Charney on His Controversial Ad

Dov Charney, chairman and CEO of American Apparel, at a company retail store in New York, 2010
Dov Charney, chairman and CEO of American Apparel, at a company retail store in New York, 2010Photograph by Keith Bedford/Bloomberg

A few days ago, when Sandy was just a silly-sounding Frankenstorm, the marketing appeal was undeniable. Graphic Image staged a “Franken Storm Franken Sale” that invited customers to take 15 percent off the leather diaries, notebooks, and everything else on its website, and sports retailer Owner Operator had its own FRANKENSTORM discount. Urban Outfitters blasted out its offer in an e-mail that declared: “This Storm Blows But Free Shipping on All Orders Doesn’t.” Even Singer22, a trendy Long Island clothing retailer in the path of the storm, hawked its hurricane sale with the slogan: “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

As the hurricane-turned-cyclone left a path of destruction across the East Coast, the cutesy slogans suddenly seemed a little tasteless. But no brand got a blast of negative blowback quite like American Apparel. The clothing retailer, long criticized for using porn imagery to hawk underwear and T-shirts, offered a 20 percent discount to customers in the nine states most affected by Sandy. “In case you’re bored during the storm,” the ad stated, “just Enter SANDYSALE at Checkout.”