American Apparel joins the black hair debate

So in short – Zeitgeist brand American Apparel prefers Solange to Beyonce.

Following the recent revelation that when it comes to staff the company is more interested in the natural hair look than what they wrongly referred to as the trashy look, there’s been a lot of hoo ha about American Apparel having policies on Black hair. On many blogs and forums many black women were getting upset, claiming that we can wear our hair the way we want to.

Folks, we are getting upset for the wrong reasons. We don’t need another natural vs straight hair debate, I think the majority of black women now sympathize with India Arie, when she sang ‘I am not my hair’. American Apparel’s target group is the 20-something yr old student that is sexy and the trendy. As part of their marketing strategy, they also seem to want the staff to be young, sexy and trendy. According to American Apparel, trendy, when it comes to black, is natural hair.

The fact that natural Afro hair is now trendy, is not a bad thing. After all, we have spent at least a century believing that our natural hair is unmanageable and/or ugly. It is the assumption that if you are not trendy in an eclectic kinda way, then you are trashy in a commercial hip hop kinda way, which is prejudiced. What American Apparel doesn’t seem to get is that you can be eclectic and trashy OR hip hop and classy.

Personally, as confessed in a previous post, I do shop at AA quite often, but after having read Gawker, I’m starting to wonder whether I need to make my shopping decisions more in line my ideological views… Anyway, more about that in another post.

Check out Solange’s damn blog btw, she and her friends look like the quintessential American Apparel girl, don’t you think?

  • Eremi

    I believe American Apparel has a ‘natural’ policy for all their models, white or black. At one point, I read on their site that when they look for models, they try to avoid “unnatural” looks of all kinds: dyed hair, piercings, tattoos, perms, etc.

    That was a few years ago. I’m not sure if this is still their policy, but if so, it explains their taking a stand on natural black hair. If their preference for “natural” beauty is relatively colorblind, I certainly think they’re justified. They’re allowed to cultivate an image for their brand, right? Though calling relaxed hair “trashy” is definitely not cool.

    • MsAfropolitan

      As far as branding is concerned, I’m pretty impressed with what AA have achieved and like you say, they have the right to go for the look that will appeal to their target group.
      It’s not cool at all that they are referring to what we can assume is the ‘hip hop/r&b styled chick’ as trashy, but this raises so many questions for me such as why ‘hip hop chicks’ have received the reputation which AA is not the first to insinuate, why we as a society are obsessed with brands that at the end of the day are overly sexualized, why the ‘white’ trashy look, is more OK than the ‘black’ trashy look…
      It does not however, make me want to debate and create divide between black women with natural hair and those with relaxed hair/weaves!

      Thanks for stopping by Eremi :)

  • teachermrw

    I agree that we don’t need another debate re: natural vs. relaxed hair. Black women should be allowed to exercise self-determination on that one. I also checked out Solange’s blog. I agree with you that they could be AA models. Wait – perhaps they ARE AA models. :)

    • MsAfropolitan

      They probably are!

  • Chic Therapy

    the natural hair and permed hair/weave issue has been hashed out enough as it is…but either way, i think it is discriminatory for them to hire a person over another just because of the way they prefer to wear their hair.Presently,Solange has a natural looking weave on…how would one categorize this? It is natural looking but still a weave…so does it count?

    • MsAfropolitan

      I think that in a perfect world it would not matter at all, but the fashion industry advocates one good thing after another, races, hair types and body types go in and out of fashion in a very segregated way. AA have been at the forefront of youth trends one of which Afro hair now seems to be. So to answer your question, I think they would hire Solange over Beyonce for ex, because she looks more ‘trendy’.
      And that’s the problem I think, not the natural vs weave issue. After all, next month it might be the other way around again, and then Solange will likely update her hair do.
      Just walk into any AA and it’s quite sad to see that they only hire people who are skinny, good looking (as defined by the industry), trendy and young. It’s their marketing strategy and it’s worked for them, although they are now in a financial crisis so maybe they actually do need to get in some curvaceous black women with straight hair!

      Whatever happened to Benetton anyway? Their marketing strategy was so much more uplifting!

      • teachermrw

        Co-signing re: Benetton. :)

      • annie q. syed

        yes what happened to benetton anyway?! :)

        • MsAfropolitan

          Next time I’m out shopping I’m going to go see what they’ve got on offer! I don’t understand why I stopped shopping there. I guess they went ‘out’ of fashion 😉

  • Empress

    As I understood it they were looking for girls with “good hair” there may be a discrepency somewhere as to what exactly they were looking for, but requesting good hair, versus natural are two completly different things, and if they actually ment the latter of the two, black women have every reason to be outraged. I don’t shop at AA nor do I intend to besides the hair debate, they deliberatly excluded women of average size as indicated by one of their reps. Check out this post

    True Queen

    • MsAfropolitan

      @Empress, that’s an interesting point you raise – it made me wonder, when coming from corporate white America, what exactly is good hair?
      For black people, good hair traditionally has meant a bigger softer curl, but what does it mean to the commercial fashion industry?
      It is outraging that AA categorize women into their policy, but should they be allowed to brand themselves as they wish, or should an ethical body impose affirmative action?

  • annie q. syed

    When I first visited an African country (a long stay in South Africa via a visit in Moraco and Senegal) I was surprised to learn how different this topic was addressed in Africa as compared to in the United States, especially amongst my African-American friends and even those who are not close friends but I would run into.

    I noticed and was told by the women in South Africa (some were from Uganda, others Kenya, and others naturally South African from different ethnic backgrounds*)that this is just a style and preference thing. It didn’t matter if you were bald, had a weave, curls, perm, etc. etc. Of course, I was able to connect the dots as to why and how it is a BIG (huge) issue in the US (to the extent that Chris Rock made a movie about it–I should have done that one as I started taking notes on this in early 2000! But like they say, if you don’t take care of your idea, the Universe will just offer it to someone else because ideas come from beyond us) given the history etc. But I liked the attitude these women had: it was a fashion thing more than a ‘racial’ statement.

    Just this week (or when you originally posted this and I said I will comment on it) I was out with a beautiful African-American friend of mine (more about her on my website under “Catalyst for Augury”…Kirsten Poe Hill) and we were discussing hair thinning as we get older and not being ‘natural’ or feeling ‘natural.’ Then we started discussing this topic of your post and well…we both pointed out how the Bollywood industry is laden with weaves! Yes, Indian women with weaves. Why? Because after a certain point, one’s hair does not grow any longer. For some it does, but not for everyone. So what are they to do? A weave of course!

    So there you have it. All folks of soul have go to move beyond this….because if you are indeed, your hair, there are much bigger issues than simply racial or cultural identity.


    *I have been attacked & corrected by commentators and the like for sometimes holding a pan-African stance in my sharing as well as been attacked & corrected for NOT holding a pan-African stance. Conclusion: can’t please everyone. People who get caught up in that have many other issues as I learned at another blog where I did a guest post.

    • MsAfropolitan

      You can still get involved in a documentary! There’s enough angles on this topic…

      I think part of the problem of soul folk (I dig that term though) is that some women wear weaves because it’s a fashion statement or to enhance their own hair texture due to thinning hair etc, and some wear weaves because they haven’t learnt to look after, love and maintain their own hair. I do dislike to see very young black girls wearing weaves as I suspect they are doing that for the latter reason

      It might be this dual polemic that makes us so sensitive about brands like AA getting involved in black hair, but I think we should realise that whatever the reason we wear or don’t wear weaves, trends will shift, and brands will shift with them. Like our hair decisions, AA’s too might not be political but rather, fashionable

      your PS rocks! It actually felt good to hear that cause as much as I feel that if I’m going to be blogging I’m not going to censor myself for fear of criticism/offending someone, there are times when being accused of being one way or the another can be upsetting.
      Where can I find your guest post? would love to read more candid thoughts from a.q.s.

  • annie q. syed

    at wrote: I Write To Africa (it was, how shall I put this kindly, a bit too ‘abstract’ for some readers and they couldn’t pick up in the metaphors that I wasn’t referring TO africa as an entire content). moreover, i am very turned off by any discussion–TV, news, online, blog, article, amongst company, anything where another attacks view held because you don’t like someone’s writing style. Content is different than style.

    thanks for the lovely space you have created.

    i truly enjoyed some of the poetry, fiction, and your thoughts on literature as well. will add you to…as they say….”blog roll.” I have no idea why. Sounds like sushi to me. You write very well too.



    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Annie, will need to chk it out.
      Reciprocating the sushi gesture :) Not because ‘a sushi for a sushi’, but because it tastes good!

      • annie q. syed

        lmao! :)

  • annie q. syed

    sorry, meant to type: continent not ‘content’. whoops.