American Apparel Plus-Size Debacle Comes To Anticlimactic, Boring End

After hearing about American Apparel's "Next BIG Thing" model search and feeling offended by the wording in the copy, Nancy Upton entered the contest, submitting saucy, food-oriented photographs. She earned the most votes, but was informed by American Apparel that she was not the winner. Then she ended up on the Today show, and was invited to tour the American Apparel headquarters. After that, instead of blowing up further, the whole thing fizzled.

On Extra Wiggle Room, Nancy's tumblr dedicated to the American Apparel contest, she writes:

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…

I have lots of video footage of this, but [American Apparel rep] 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.

Nancy did sit down with the creative team who organized the "Next BIG Thing" contest:

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.

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.

But after the meeting, when Nancy flew back home to Texas, she got an email from Iris Alonzo which read:

"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."

Emphasis ours. But when you fly someone out to visit your company — pay for airfare and hotel and make a point of having a creative meeting — it seems like you should have a pretty good idea of what was discussed.

Even if nothing much came from Nancy's visit to the headquarters, she did grab the company's attention, which was the point. In addition, she added to the dialogue about how to target, treat and design for plus-size women. Despite the fact that the average size in the U.S. is 14, there are very few designers making affordable, easily-accessible garments for plus-size women. A company that can figure out how to tap into that market — without insulting the customer — will be rewarded with great sales.

But Nancy Upton is done talking about American Apparel for now: "I wish the people I met all the best, and for me, this subject matter is closed."

If A Tree Falls In The Forest [Extra Wiggle Room]