American Apparel CEO Dov Charney wasn’t actually born in America.
The native Canadian grew up in Montreal before attending Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut and Tufts University outside Boston.
Today, thanks to his trendy Los Angeles-based clothing brand American Apparel, Charney is emblematic of a maverick living the American dream. The Los Angeles Times has even named him one of the top 100 most powerful people in America, and Time magazine nominated him as a Time 100 finalist in 2009.
Whether it’s his Made in USA sweatshop-free business model or those provocative ad campaigns, Charney is making us all pay attention, one T-shirt at a time.
We caught up with the entrepreneur to find out what he thinks of the current state of American fashion.
What do you hate about American fashion?
I don’t like middle American fast-food fashion. I don’t like the mall. Great fashion can be found anywhere, from Kmart to a garage sale. I see American fashion as commodity clothing. I saw a big shift when designers started sourcing outside of America, which makes it repetitive.
What do you love about American fashion?
I like American fashion that’s made in the USA, like Levis 501, Vans and Converse. I like how American style is utilitarian and basic. We are looking to always perfect the perfect T-shirt and mens underwear. The durability is also very American. The way it’s marketed is a new contemporary moment.
What’s the best lesson you learned from going to boarding school at Choate
Boarding school in America taught me all about American culture. I was an Anglo-Canadian and grew up in Montreal with a Jewish mother, so it gave me the opportunity to appreciate diversity. It’s also the same school JFK Jr. went to. I was lucky.
Where’s the void in American style?
The craftsmanship is gone. We are trying to recapture that honor.
Do your parents like your ads?
My mom is my biggest critic. I say, ‘Ma, it will be something different next week. Don’t worry.’
How do you become Dov?
You have to have my parents and be respectful of a cross section of people. My education didn’t hurt.