The Story

Following his ousting from American Apparel, Dov Charney has been eager to restart and launch his new venture—Los Angeles Apparel. He has assembled the fabric, the equipment, and the people to help make his new clothing line. Now he needs to find his customer base.

In this, the season finale of StartUp, Charney debuts his product to a group of people that knows his history well. But will his past prove to be an obstacle, or become part of what leads his new business to success?

The Facts

Andrew Dunn, Dara Hirsch and Martin Peralta mixed the episode.

Our theme song was written and performed by Mark Phillips.

Our updated theme was remixed by Bobby Lord.

The special ad music, Microliters, was written and performed by Build Buildings.

Our logo was designed by Elias Stein.

Additional music by Surf, Jupyter, and the band hotmoms.gov.

 

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Show transcript

LISA: Hello. From Gimlet, this is StartUp. I’m  Lisa Chow.

 

This is the final episode of the season, the final chapter in our series on Dov Charney. And I’m gonna start this episode where our story began.  Sitting in the car with Dov.

 

But before we go anywhere, a quick warning, there’s some swearing in this episode, and that swearing, it happens now.   

 

DOV: Oh fuck, I have to drink some more coffee

 

LISA: Dov’s been up since four this morning. He’s going out to get some stuff done for his new business, Los Angeles Apparel — but before we hit the road, he has to make himself a cup of instant coffee.

 

DOV: If I don’t have  enough caffeine, it could be very serious, I have a severe Nescafé addiction, but I—

 

LISA: Dov reaches for a bottle of lukewarm water on the floor of the backseat

 

Dov: Is there any water left in here?

 

LISA: He pours it into a cup and mixes it with nescafe. Not heated up or anything.

 

LISA: Have you always been a Nescafé drinker?

 

DOV: No, I wasn’t even drinking coffee until I got to LA, you know, my friend was buying coffee in the morning at Starbucks and then I said, “This is a waste of time, standing around in line? What am I really here for?” It’s the caffeine, son.

 

LISA: This tape is from my first trip to Los Angeles… One of the first conversations I had with Dov. And it’s weird listening back to it now — because my relationship with him has changed so much since then.

 

After the confrontation I had with Dov — the one that was off the record — my communication with him was much less frequent. We had a few interviews on tape after that, but I wasn’t following him at the factory or seeing him meet with vendors the way I had been.   

 

Coming into this story, I wanted to find out what Dov had learned from his time at American Apparel. What lessons he would apply to building his new company. I quickly realized that Dov was eager to talk about the past, so long as I didn’t challenge his narrative about what happened.  

 

But there’s no question that what happened at American Apparel is Dov’s legacy. And in his new venture, people will be joining him despite—or because of that legacy.

 

Today on the show, we’re going to talk to people who are backing Dov—a position they never thought they’d be in.

 

We’ll also meet a group of people we have not heard from all season, people who have a very big hand in whether Dov can pull off his new business.

 

Recently, I talked with a guy named Keith Fink. Keith has a long history with Dov.

 

KEITH: I mean, if I told you the truth of how crazy our relationship was

for 10 years—do you know they built websites against me?

 

LISA: Yes, I heard about that.

 

KEITH: I was really public enemy number one with the company. They hated me!

 

LISA: Keith says starting in 2005, he represented several people suing Dov and American Apparel. One of his clients was an employee who accused Dov of using foul language and crude gestures, and holding business meetings in his underwear. The case ultimately settled.

 

KEITH:  There’s certain things that shouldn’t be said in a workplace. You have to wear clothes in the workplace. Virtually everything the company did back then was a wrong employment practice, a poor employment practice with respect to making sure the workplace was free from any type of harassment.

 

LISA: Keith aggressively advocated for his clients. And the company retaliated by going after Keith.

 

KEITH:  And it got to be so contentious on the company thought of me

uh as public enemy number one. That I was cyber attacked. Uh and there was articles in the New York Post I mean the company uh went to the effort to build websites against me like, uh, American Apparel against Keith Fink, you know or whatever keithfinksucks dot com you know hosted by American Apparel.

 

LISA: What did you do? What was your response to that?

KEITH: I guess most lawyers, most lawyers probably wouldn’t have slept. Uh yea some of my friends thought I should be worried about my own physical safety.

 

LISA: Wow. Were you worried?

 

KEITH FINK: Yeah I was, yeah. I was, yeah.

 

LISA: You were?

 

KEITH FINK: It’s bizarre. Well, I didn’t know how would I know yes someone could pay somebody I guess 100,000 dollars in brooklyn to break my legs. You know you read about some lawyers get shot so yeah you know I didn’t uh that I took seriously.

 

LISA: Fear and intimidation were just part of the package.  According to one of Dov’s favorite books, The 48 Laws of Power, to really take down someone like Keith, Dov would have to dismantle Keith’s reputation. That’s part of law number 5: “learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.” At the time Keith was litigating against Dov, Keith was also teaching at UCLA, his alma mater.

 

KEITH: The thing that I love the most is my students, my teaching, and

UCLA. And the day that I was teaching—because they knew everything about me—they took out an advertisement in the Daily Bruin, which is UCLA’s student newspaper. To try to get me fired from UCLA.

 

LISA: I’ve seen the ad against Keith. It’s a large photo of him with the headline “Meet Keith.”

 

RYAN: I used to have it framed over my over my desk. Let me see if I can pull it up really fast.

 

LISA: That’s Ryan Holiday, who was director of marketing at American Apparel. Ryan reported to Dov, and he created the ad in the Daily Bruin attacking Keith Fink. The ad goes on for paragraphs, smearing Keith’s character and career.

LISA: When Keith was suing Dov, did you feel that Dov, I mean, did Dov have a lot of anger towards Keith?

 

RYAN: Oh yeah. I mean, his position then was that this person was trying to ruin him and by extension threaten all of us at the company.

 

LISA: Keith Fink kept his job at UCLA. His career in law was not destroyed. No guy in Brooklyn ever broke his legs. But this was still a very trying time for Keith, which makes what happened next especially surprising.

 

Several years later, Keith was traveling in Asia when he got a call.

KEITH: And my office told me you got an interesting call. Dov Charney called.

 

LISA: Dov was legendary in Keith’s office. When they got the call from Dov, they alerted Keith right away. And he took the call.

 

KEITH: Came back maybe a month or a month after and I told my office  that I had interesting news for them my partner Sarah uh who fought these cases with me she said, don’t tell me you took him as a client. She was not happy.

 

LISA: Yes… Keith had decided to take Dov on as a client. He’s advising Dov on his new business and representing him in many of the lawsuits that resulted from the fallout of his firing.  

 

When Keith first signed on to work with Dov, everyone in his life told him he was crazy.

 

They couldn’t understand why Keith would defend a guy who had personally attacked his career and reputation. How could Keith want anything to do with someone who had once made him worry about his physical safety?

 

But Keith saw it differently.

 

KEITH: They had a high opinion of me as a lawyer. It’s not the first time that somebody that, uh, been against in a case has hired me. That’s probably the most flattering thing that a lawyer can get, is to have a client that you were against then hire you. So I knew why he called me is, he thought I was a good lawyer. He wasn’t calling me to you know go have a cup of coffee.

 

LISA: I guess the thing that befuddles me is just that you know when you’re public enemy number one of someone like Dov, the fact that you could be friends with someone who—

 

KEITH:  Because I don’t fault him for it. As I’ve said, you push somebody, they’re gonna push back. Okay, maybe they pushed back more than they should push back right if you wanna say there’s certain lines, but I don’t hold grudges no animosity I say I’m a big boy. I don’t worry about the past. I think he’s a good guy. I think he’s gonna be a good client and we can help them. And the irony… and so I think the funniest thing now is, two and a half years later, if you ask my entire office they will say their favorite client, or one of their most favorite clients, is Dov Charney.

 

LISA: You said your office feels a lot of affection for Dov. In… at the moment people thought you were crazy.

 

KEITH: Well, yeah, look—my parents still do my friends think I’m… that it’s nuts, uh, and actually, Dov’s mother asked me why I had anything to do with Dov. So maybe a year and a half ago, I remember that she says I wanna talk, I wanna talk to you. She really was on my case, uh, why do you wanna have anything to do with my son? I forget her exact words. She’s a very nice lady. So, yes I can see you know it doesn’t make much sense to, uh, to a rational outside person why the two of us would be together.

 

LISA: Yeah, it doesn’t make sense. When I pressed Keith more, he told me he respects Dov. That it’s fascinating to be part of Dov’s world. And at the end of the day, he’s a hired gun.

 

Keith is an extreme version of a phenomenon I’ve encountered many times reporting this story. Someone who after seeing or experiencing Dov’s worst behavior, decides to work with him.

 

I’ve talked with people who have seen Dov be vindictive or verbally abusive… people who knew about his many sexual relationships with employees and how he managed his business. But when Dov asked them to come help with the new business, they answered the call.

 

CHAD: I’ve been following Dov for a while.

 

LISA: Recently I spoke with a guy named Chad Hagan. Chad runs an investment firm. He first took an interest in Dov back in 2009 when American Apparel was struggling and the company was taking out high interest loans.

 

CHAD: And we made some jokes to the point that hey, let’s go ahead and get in touch with these guys, because, you know, we’re fine loaning money to them if they’re taking it at 15%.  

 

LISA: And why do you think the company, as early as 2009, was in this situation where they were borrowing money at such high interest rates?

 

CHAD: Well. I believe that… it was mismanaged.

 

LISA: What, what, what exactly?

 

CHAD: The entire company.

 

LISA: Back then, Chad shorted American Apparel’s stock, and his bet paid off. As the stock plummeted, Chad made money.

 

After betting against Dov, Chad is now investing in Dov’s new business. Which was baffling to me.

 

I asked Chad many times, why are you investing in someone who you say mismanaged a company—a company that, after he left, went into double bankruptcy.  

 

Chad says he doesn’t blame Dov for the problems at American Apparel. He says Dov did not have good support at the senior level, that American Apparel grew too fast, that it moved away from offering basics into fast fashion… and that you can’t blame all of that on Dov.

 

LISA: But when I push Chad, I realize that one of the main reasons he’s investing in Dov is that the troubles at American Apparel are actually good for Dov now.  

 

CHAD: American Apparel always had a significant wholesale business. So, with American Apparel in dire straights, and everything falling apart, Dov will continue to grab that wholesale business. And I see him ultimately being very successful with that.

 

LISA: Chad thinks that within five years, Dov’s new company will be doing 100 million dollars in sales. And he believes in Dov, in spite of his controversial past.  

 

Chad says the first time he met Dov, they talked about the sexual harassment lawsuits.

 

CHAD: He actually brought it up he was like, listen I have a, you know, I’m an open book about this. Ask me whatever you wanna ask me. I mean, I’ve been in situations before where there’s been entrepreneurs sleeping with employees. It’s not a good situation, but Dov’s lifestyle also really you know. Being somewhat of an open lifestyle, and I don’t know what it is now, I don’t want to get him in trouble if he has a serious girlfriend or something. But definitely had a lot of different girlfriends. And he was communicating with these different girlfriends and some of them were getting mad at the other ones and stuff like that. It was like this harem that exploded on him kind of. But we looked at all the accusations and everything else. And we did… we felt fine working with Dov.

 

LISA: So tell me, what exactly in that conversation though made you feel comfortable moving forward?

 

CHAD: Dov… Dov… he… I guess he admitted fault to a level that we were… he… there was… it wasn’t… there was remorse for the situation. I could feel remorse for the situation. The situations. It wasn’t like we were talking to some psychopath who does this all the time.

 

LISA: Okay. So you felt that there was some ownership. Some sense of responsibility there.

 

CHAD: Yes. Yes.

 

LISA: Hm. Interesting.

 

CHAD: And… not ownership in the sense that, like, you know, Dov admitted to behavior in the sense of kind of being really, really… I don’t know… friendly with a lot of people in situations that you know, stuff that could be easily misconstrued and looked at as inappropriate. That’s what he owned up to. Shouldn’t have done that stuff.

 

LISA: Okay, shouldn’t have done meanin,g shouldn’t have slept with employees? Or shouldn’t have sexually harassed anyone?

 

CHAD: Yeah, I don’t—

 

LISA: He didn’t go that far. He didn’t go that far.

 

CHAD: Yeah. Yeah.

 

LISA: In terms of the women who sued for sexual harassment, I mean what did you make of their claims?

 

CHAD: You know, that’s all kind of fuzzy. I have to look back on that. I do know that there was a lot of money spent on settling lawsuits.

 

LISA: Right. Does that worry you now, in terms of investing in the new company?

 

CHAD: No, it doesn’t worry me now. I don’t think it’ll hap—I know that that activity, that behavior won’t happen. Dov’s without a doubt learned his lesson.

 

LISA: If you found out that he hadn’t learned his lesson, what would you do?

 

CHAD: We couldn’t be associated with his venture. It would be too… from a PR perspective, we couldn’t even be near him. I have to fall back on the faith that I have in the sense that Dov want’s money versus being just really famous and a bunch of girlfriends. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he just wants it all over again. You know? I don’t really know but. I’d like to think that you know he’s going to go another away.

 

LISA: We’ve talked with many people, like Chad, who are falling back on faith. Hoping that all of Dov’s good qualities will outshine his flaws. And that things will work out differently this time.

 

But there’s one group of people we haven’t talked to yet this season. A group that will determine whether Dov can pull off this new business: Dov’s potential customers. In the time we’ve spent with Dov, we’ve seen him begin to pitch customers, get regular orders.

 

But he’s going to need a lot more customers than he has now if he wants to grow his new business to the size someone like Chad wants it to be. Or what his employees want it to be.  

 

Recently, Dov went to a place with lots of potential customers. It’s a magic place. Literally, that’s what it’s called: MAGIC, the biggest trade show in the apparel industry. Held twice a year in Las Vegas. We went to MAGIC with Dov to find out what his customers think of his legacy and how successful his new business might be.

 

So, stick around. After the break, we’ll meet you in Las Vegas.

 

 

-BREAK-

 

LISA: Welcome back to StartUp. And welcome to Las Vegas.

 

Here at a hotel casino, the Magic Tradeshow sprawls across different floors, in these big open conference rooms pulsing with music.  

When I meet Dov, he’s wearing a t-shirt and sneakers, and carrying a blue gym bag over his shoulder. It’s loaded with t-shirts.

 

Dov hasn’t been to Magic since he lost American Apparel. This is the first time he’ll be telling lots of people in his industry about his new business.

 

DOV: I used to go out there staff of thirty. I used to bring a school bus of people, like

several vans. Now it’s just me on a broken bicycle. 

 

LISA: This is the same tradeshow Dov attended when he first started American Apparel. Back then, he was a young guy with a dream who just started making t-shirts. Now we has a lot more experience, but also a lot more baggage. He’s up against all the usual challenges of starting a business: can he make a product that captures people? Can he reinvent the t-shirt…again? BUt also, how much will his reputation affect whether or not people buy from him?

 

The customers here at MAGIC will give Doc a strong indication of how successful his new venture can be.

 

This time, talking to vendors, Dov doesn’t have an entourage. Just a couple of podcast producers following him around.

 

MAN: What are you being recorded for? What’s this?

 

DOV: Oh, it’s for a podcast that they’re doing on my rise. My rebirth of my bullshit. 

 

MAN: Cool. What are you doing these days?

 

DOV: I’m making t-shirts, man. 

 

LISA: Vendors have set up at booths across the show floor. There are all kinds of apparel companies. People are showing off their lines of dresses and sweatshirts and jeans. And a lot of these vendors run wholesale t-shirt businesses.

 

These vendors—Dov’s competition—they have booths. Mannequins modeling the styles and tables neatly displaying the range of colors and sizes. Dov has his gym bag. That’s about it.

 

But while his competitors are stuck behind their booths hoping someone will stop by, Dov is actively scoping out potential customers: people selling graphic t-shirts and custom t’s.

 

He’s looking for customers that care about having a good quality garment to print their designs on, but who don’t actually want to make the t-shirts themselves.

 

DOV: I connect with everybody, meet them. People remember me with bags. That’s what I did. I was a bag boy. I’m a schmatta schlepper.

 

LISA: In the past, Dov actually got kicked out a few times for not having a booth. You’re not supposed to be hustling around Magic marketing your clothes out of a gym bag. But Dov has never been one to follow the rules at the Magic tradeshow. Something I learned pretty quickly when people started telling me stories about Dov’s old days at Magic.

 

People like these two brothers—Patrick and Mike Liberty—who run a custom t-shirt business. They told me what it was like when Dov and American Apparel would roll into the show.

 

PATRICK: They had girls bouncing around on these balls, like, in basically underwear through the trade show. And everyone, when they would come through, would be like “Oh my God. What the fuck is going on? This is insane!”

 

LISA: So what… and when… and when… when, like the girls would be bouncing on the balls… um—

 

PATRICK: Yeah, it was, like blow up balls. Kind of like the aerobic balls, but they had a handle. And they were… so it was very sexual. They’re bouncing around in American Apparel, like, underwear.

 

MIKE: Yeah.

PATRICK:  And all the guys in the trade show, because they would go through

the—

 

MIKE: It would just stop business. It’d be like some horror movie where everybody’s frozen for a while. As soon as the girls on the balls were gone, it would get really loud again.

 

LISA: So, you said it was like a horror show—

PATRICK: Oh, yeah. Well I was just thinking about, uh, Village of the Damned. Where the kid, he would, like, freeze time. And when I say horror movie, it was actually really pleasant. It was more like a fantasy movie. Yeah. Smart marketing.

 

LISA: So, so, like… I mean, what was the general reception at the trade show? Were people like, “Wow, that’s so cool!” or were people like, “That’s weird?”

 

MIKE: “It’s ridiculous” you know? And, you know, it  was… it touched on everyone’s sexual drive so people wouldn’t, like, say they liked it for sure. It wasn’t like, “Oh, that’s so cool.” It was more just like, “That’s wild.”

 

LISA: A few stalls down, Dov is pitching some people on his new tshirts.  

WOMAN: Hi.

 

DOV: Hey how are you? My name is Dov. 

 

MAN: Dov. What’s up man? I recognize you. 

 

DOV: I’m okay. So, I am making t-shirts. 


MAN 2: Oh, you are the American Apparel dude.

 

DOV: Yeah.

 

LISA: Dov shows them a couple of the different colors he has in’his bag. But the guy says he really likes the yellow t-shirt that Dov’s wearing. Without hesitation, Dov takes it off.

 

MAN: I like that color actually. 

 

MAN 2: Yeah, I like that too. 

 

Dov: You want it? 


MAN: Okay—

 

DOV: You can have it, I have another shirt on underneath. Take it. 

 

A couple booths down, Dov meets another guy. He pulls a green shirt out of his bag.

 

DOV: Wanna see a T-shirt? Maybe you’ll like it better than this one. 

 

MAN: Sure, why not?

 

DOV: Feel this quality. Open end. 

 

MAN: This is heavyweight.

DOV: I got that. This is the quality. 

 

MAN: What a hustler, man. Just like the fucking boutique show days now.

 

DOV: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, what else am I going to do?

MAN: That’s fantastic. 

 

DOV:  I’m garment dying in three days, any colors. 

MAN: Wow. 

 

DOV: Any color you could give me, and I’ll do it. Pretty cool, right? Give it to your daughter. She’ll like it. 

 

MAN: She’ll wear this one? 

 

DOV: Yeah, an oversized shirt. That’s like 90s. It’s like big and bigger. 

 

LISA: The guy takes the boxy shirt and holds it up by the sleeves, studying it. It’s unlike any other t-shirt at the show. Everyone else is displaying slimmer tight-fitting t-shirts. The kind of shirts Dov was trying to sell people on when he first started coming to Magic 20 years ago.   

 

And everywhere we went at the tradeshow, people remembered Dov. He got approached by old customers, former employees. People who know his story well — and were happy to see him.

 

Some treated him like a celebrity. When we stopped for lunch, a trio of blonde women in cocktail dresses and clacking heels swarmed Dov.  

 

WOMAN 1: Dov, can I take a picture with you?

 

DOV: It’s so— 

 

WOMAN 2: Can I take it for you?

 

DOV: You and I?

 

WOMAN 1: I need to take a picture with Dov. I mean, this is amazing. Do you mind?

 

WOMAN 2: One. Two. Three. Smile! Is this weird? You don’t really know us. And I’m like: Take a picture!

 

DOV: It’s OK. I’m fine with it. She’s my friend.

 

WOMAN 2: We’ve been following your career forever. 

 

LISA: On one day of the show, instead of following Dov, I walked around on my own. I wanted to talk to people without Dov there, to get their honest thoughts on Dov and his new company.  

 

This is Patrick and his brother Mike, the guys who told us about Dov’s crew rolling into the trade show on bouncy balls.  They saw Dov create an iconic t-shirt and wonder if he’ll be able to pull it off again.

 

LISA: What did you think of the stuff he showed you yesterday?

 

PATRICK: I thought it was cool. It was interesting to feel kind of the, the rough cotton, you know. American Apparel has always been combed cotton. So, so a big switch for him. I don’t know. I can’t see that the masses would want rough over soft just because it feels better to wear soft, so… and so I think the first time going from rough to soft was an easier transition because it was like “Oh my God. That feels great.”

 

LISA: So , I , I guess the question is, like, whether the market will move with him. Like, whether he’ll be able to kind of… because, you know, it sounded like when he came out with his t-shirt back in the day, he kind of moved the market toward a more… toward a softer feel so, the question is, like, whether he’s gonna be able to move the market again to a rougher feel?

 

MIKE: Well, uh, marketing. There will be the marketing and the story to get them to go that way, because people like soft.

 

LISA: The story Dov tells through his marketing will shape the way people view his new company. But here at Magic, the story of his old company is still on people’s minds.

 

I had a conversation with a guy named Travis Liebig. He’s a vendor who sells graphic t-shirts. He remembers Dov well.

 

TRAVIS: When I saw his name tag I was like, “Oh, I know who you are,” um, and I know everything about American Apparel, so. We’ve used them for a long time and… and obviously his story is, uh, pretty well known throughout our industry so. Yeah, it was kind of a cool chance meeting, I guess.

 

LISA: And so what did you think? Meeting him in person for the first time.

 

TRAVIS: I guess…  it was very interesting to meet a man who built a gigantic company like that, you know? And, and to see him starting over which, I, I actually really, um, I, I really respect. Sadly I think it’s just people look at… look at him as, like this womanizing sort of pervert. I mean, just to put it very bluntly, like, you hear people all the time, like “Oh, that guy. He’s crazy,” you know, “he lost his company.” You know, you just… we hear about the sexual things that have happened or the hearsay. And those get around, and they’ve obviously been published, and, um, you know, and I think there’s, like, this really big black cloud over him? Um, and, I know, after a while they were like, “We don’t want to use him anymore. We don’t want to use American Apparel. We know the stories. We’ve heard the stories. Let’s go find something else to use.”

 

LISA: Oh, okay. Okay, so you… so you actually heard from customers, like, “I don’t know if we wanna buy American Apparel anymore.”

 

TRAVIS: Yeah. And me, I’m like, well, you know, he’s probably not a bad person. He’s just done bad things. You know, I mean, if… if he was just like, “Dude, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Like, “I see no wrong in what I did.” I’d, I think I’d be kind of like… that part would probably not sit well with me.

 

LISA: When I asked Travis if he thought that the allegations of sexual harassment—allegations that Dov denies—will continue to haunt Dov as he starts his new company. Here’s what Travis said:

 

TRAVIS: Hmm. You know, I think for some people it will probably be a factor. But, I think also that we live in a world where people tend to forget things real, real quick. If his company takes off, and it’s a good company, and he’s producing good quality garments, and you don’t hear those things about him—he kind of stays out of that light, that bad light? Um, I think people will probably give him a really good chance, and I… I just don’t know that it will be a factor. I think people will just buy those t-shirts. As sad as that is. I mean, it goes to a societal thing. I think we just forget certain things that have happened, you know, and we just look… we start to look past, you know, like the sexual harassment and things like that to say “Well, okay that’s gone. That’s over. He’s got a great t-shirt. I’m just gonna buy it.”

 

 

LISA: This is the customer Dov needs. Someone who appreciates his product, doesn’t care about the past, and won’t ask him to change.

 

In the first few episodes of this season—the episodes on our company Gimlet Media—we spent some time investigating how a founder’s qualities, the good and the bad, end up shaping a company. And how it’s important to reflect on your shadowed qualities, recognize your flaws, so they don’t become ingrained in your business.

 

In our many conversations with Dov, he never gave a hint of accepting that idea. He wasn’t interested in talking about what he could learn from the past or taking responsibility for any of the actions that may have led to his firing.

 

Dov has a different philosophy. Don’t toil over the past. Move ahead and don’t look back.

 

And when we talk about the past, Dov says he didn’t do anything wrong. His company was turning around.

 

DOV: At this point, I got to keep rolling. And that’s it. And I’m very comfortable with my reputation. I like my reputation.  

 

LISA: Dov has fought all of the allegations brought against him. It’s important to him to be able to tell people: none of the claims against me have ever been proven to be true. But at the same time, he knows the questions and doubts about him are out there. He knows he’s a controversial figure.  And sometimes, it seems like he can see an upside to that.

 

DOV: I remember sitting on a park bench outside a Lower East Side store and I heard these women talking about me. They’re like, “He’s such bad man. Buh buh buh bah bah bah bah,” walked into the store, and then they were walking out with so many bags. And I offered to help them put it in their taxi, and they didn’t recognize who I was, and I shut the door and I said, “God bless America.” You know. Didn’t matter. It became an intrigue. They were shopping. People were shopping. It was interesting, you know it was true, was it false. Was it this, was it that, should they not shop, should they shop? Generated mystery around the brand. And in America, if you’re making money everything is forgiven. Trust me.

 

LISA: In the new business, many people—like Keith Fink and Chad Hagan—they’re with Dov. Willing to accept that the past is the past.  But there are also a lot of people on the sidelines who weathered American Apparel, saw Dov at his worst, and won’t be part of his new endeavor.

 

TACEE: It’s not what was lost that is hard on me, it’s what might’ve been. You know?

 

LISA: Here’s Tacee Webb, who helped Dov build the retail side of American Apparel.

 

TACEE: American Apparel could’ve continued and not just created more jobs… challenged an industry in a very important way. Dov has the capacity to bring that all back and more. So. I don’t wanna tarnish his reputation further by speaking out. But I guess I would like to be a voice of reason and constructive criticism. I’d love to see him rebuild. I’d love to see him come back tenfold. I just. I don’t think you build your house on sand, you know?

 

LISA: The good and the bad are linked in all of us. The qualities that help us succeed often have a sinister side that can bring us down.

 

The people who are with Dov on this new venture, are lured by the dream of getting Dov at his best without having to endure Dov at his worst.

 

But the people watching from the sidelines, like Tacee, believe that starting over requires looking honestly at yourself… and fully reckoning with your past.

TACEE: It’s my personal opinion that unless he does make those changes, that his new company will not be successful. I think it’s important that he comes to terms with it as a person. That he takes some personal responsibility. Was he ousted, yes. Was it wrong, yes. Was it potentially illegal? I think so. But, it was because of some of the choices that he made. And he needs to take some personal responsibility for those choices. As a woman that helped him build this amazing company. The choices that he made in my name were reckless for me. I think it’s very, very hard for him to be the comeback kid. I think there needs to be you know. Amends made. I think there needs to be a redemption story. But it can’t be a fake one that you throw out there to the media that’s insincere. It’s a place that I would encourage him as his friend and someone that helped him build the company. A place that I’d like for him to come to in his heart. Something that he really believes. And I don’t know if that’s possible. You know the only person that knows if that’s possible is Dov.

 

LISA: I recently followed up with some people I spoke with at the Magic tradeshow. To see if they were doing business with Dov’s new company. And many people are. Those two brothers said Dov helped them make a line of t-shirts. Travis — the guy who said we live in a world where people forget — is considering ordering some samples from Dov.

 

So far, business is going well. Dov is financing new machines, bringing in more people: floor managers, cutters, mechanics, quality control. He now has more than 60 employees.

 

I don’t know what’s going to happen next: If Dov will build another iconic t-shirt brand. If other patterns will repeat themselves, too.

 

But I do know that this company is happening. Just this month, Los Angeles Apparel made its first million dollars in sales.

 

StartUp is hosted by me, Lisa Chow. Our show is produced by Bruce Wallace, Luke Malone, Molly Messick, and Simone Polanen. Our senior producer is Kaitlin Roberts.

I’m in awe of this team every day. They’ve done unbelievable reporting for this series. Thank you.  

We are edited by Alex Blumberg, Alexandra Johnes, and Caitlin Kenney. Fact checking by Michelle Harris.

 

A lot of journalists who’ve reported on Dov and American Apparel helped us out early on. Thanks to Susan Berfield, Sapna Maheshwari, Nick Casey, Matt Townsend and Jim Edwards. Thanks also to Rachel Strom, Felipe Caro, Ruxandra Guidi, Isabella Kulkarni, and Jina Moore.  

 

Mark Phillips wrote and performed our theme song. The new version of the theme song is by the legend Bobby Lord. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music.

 

Original music by the band, Hot Moms Dot Gov, which includes The Reverend John DeLore, Jordan Scannella, Sam Merrick, Isamu McGregor, and Curtis Brewer. Music direction by Matthew Boll.

 

Additional music credits on our website.

Andrew Dunn, Dara Hersch, and Martin Peralta  mixed the episode.  Special thanks to Andrew and to David Herman, who put in long, long hours this season, and were very patient about it.

 

To subscribe to the podcast, go to iTunes, or check out the Gimlet Media website: GimletMedia.com. You can follow us on Twitter @podcaststartup.

 

Thanks for listening. We’ll see you on the next season of start-up.


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