American Apparel Responds to Nancy Upton’s Plus-Size Model Spoof

You remember Nancy Upton, the Dallas actress who, for the American Apparel plus-size model search, submitted photos of herself in various states of undress, wearing various kinds of foods. Once the photos went viral, Upton got more votes than anyone else. Last week she said she didn’t expect to hear from American Apparel. This week she did. She got a letter — CC’d to the media — from the company’s creative director, Iris Alonzo. While it contains plenty of corporate-tastic talk (“Look how many jobs we create!”), the letter is relatively frank…and uses the word “firstly”.

Some highlights include Alonzo’s apology-ish sentiment:

“Firstly, we are very sorry that we offended you. Our only motive was to discover and celebrate the many beautiful XL women around the globe who enjoy our brand, and to promote the recent size additions to our collection. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Some public shaming:

“It’s a shame that your project attempts to discredit the positive intentions of our challenge based on your personal distaste for our use of light-hearted language, and that ‘bootylicous’ was too much for you to handle.”

Some explanations for PR goofs:

“You’re literally witnessing a transparent, sincere, innovative, creative company go through puberty in the spotlight of modern media. It’s not easy!”

And the sad news that, while she did technically win the contest, yeah, that modeling contract isn’t going to happen:

“Oh – and regarding winning the contest, while you were clearly the popular choice, we have decided to award the prizes to other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out, and whom we will be proud to have representing our company.”

Read the entire letter after the jump.

Dear Nancy Upton,

My name is Iris Alonzo and I am a Creative Director at American Apparel. Along with four other women, I conceived of the Next BIG Thing campaign for American Apparel. Firstly, we are very sorry that we offended you. Our only motive was to discover and celebrate the many beautiful XL women around the globe who enjoy our brand, and to promote the recent size additions to our collection. Nothing more, nothing less. We would also like to assure you that no one is getting fired over your stunt, as you expressed concern about in a recent interview. We are fortunate to have a great boss who trusts and believes in our instincts and ideas, and we are still very excited about all of our Next BIG Things and looking forward to meeting our new XL brand ambassadors.

It’s a shame that your project attempts to discredit the positive intentions of our challenge based on your personal distaste for our use of light-hearted language, and that “bootylicous” was too much for you to handle. While we may be a bit TOO inspired by Beyoncé, and do have a tendency to occasionally go pun-crazy, we try not to take ourselves too seriously around here. I wonder if you had taken just a moment to imagine that this campaign could actually be well intentioned, and that my team and I are not out to offend and insult women, would you have still behaved in the same way, mocking the confident and excited participants who put themselves out there? Maybe you’ll find it interesting that in addition to simply responding to customer demand and feedback, when you’re a vertically-integrated company, actual jobs are created from new size additions. In this case, for the XL women who will model them, industrial workers that make them, retail employees that sell them and beyond. That’s the amazing reality of American Apparel’s business.

Though I could spend hours responding to your accusations and assumptions, this isn’t the appropriate forum for that, so I will only briefly address a few issues here. In regards to April Flores’ “that’s not our demographic” experience, I don’t recall the name of the confused employee credited with saying that, but he or she was sadly uninformed, and our company certainly does not endorse their statement. For as long as I can remember, we have offered sizes up to 3XL in our basic styles, and as far as adding larger sizes to the rest of our line is concerned, if there is the demand and manufacturing power to support it, we’re always game. There are thousands of brands in the market who have no intention of supporting natural – and completely normal – full-figured women, and American Apparel is making a conscious effort to change that, both with our models and our line. If every brand that tried to do this was met with such negative press, we may have to wait another decade for the mainstream to embrace something so simple.

In the past, American Apparel has been targeted for various reasons, many times by journalists who weren’t willing to go the extra mile to even visit the factory or meet the people in charge. Dov is a great executive director and American Industrialist, but there are hundreds of other decision-makers in our company, over half of whom are women. I suppose you have read a few too many negative pieces about us that have helped to form your opinion of who we are and what we stand for, and perhaps this has clouded your ability to give us a chance. I get it. I read some of it too. As a creative who isn’t always the most tactful and tends to stay away from the limelight, maybe I haven’t spoken up as much as I should have over the past 8 years that I’ve worked at American Apparel. Perhaps I could have shed some light on some issues that have been left cloudy over the years. However, sensational media will always need something to latch on to and success, spandex and individuality (and mutton chops circa 2004) are certainly easy targets. And who knows – maybe the PR ups and downs are all part of our DNA as a company. What I do know is that after all the years I have been working for this company I can wholeheartedly say that American Apparel is an amazing and inspiring place to work. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can represent of a ton of people I know when I say that we really like Dov and we passionately believe in his vision for a beautiful factory with sustainable practices. We are the largest sewing factory in North America, after all…10,000 jobs is nothing to sniff at. A lot of people would be very sad if this company wasn’t around.

That said, we realize that we are in no way perfect and that we’re still learning. We want to do better or differently in many areas, and we are actively working on them every day. You’re literally witnessing a transparent, sincere, innovative, creative company go through puberty in the spotlight of modern media. It’s not easy!

Oh – and regarding winning the contest, while you were clearly the popular choice, we have decided to award the prizes to other contestants that we feel truly exemplify the idea of beauty inside and out, and whom we will be proud to have representing our company.

Please feel free to contact me directly anytime. If you want to know the real scoop about our company before writing a story, I’ve got it (or if I don’t, I can put you in touch with the person that does!).

Best of luck,

Iris Alonzo
Creative Director
American Apparel

14 comments on “American Apparel Responds to Nancy Upton’s Plus-Size Model Spoof

  1. Why was this written by a Creative Director? Oh, that’s right, they’re sensitive. No way this letter was actually an approved/official response. Should have sent the letter to Nancy with box of jelly donuts. Be creative. Have a sense of humor.

  2. 1) Bitchiest letter ever. Glad it’s out in the public domain so we can all continue boycotting American Apparel, if not because of their ridiculous and ill-conceived campaign, then because they employ such frigid wenches in their creative department. I swear I’d lose it if I had to work with someone like this. What a terrible brand representative. Glad she thinks her job is safe, because I really hope it’s not. Won’t she be surprised?

    2) Where does this unearned victimhood come from? She admits this campaign concept blew the big one, yet she still wants to claim the company was unfairly targeted by Upton’s bold, clever response? Please. She’s one person and you’re a huge clothing company. David beats Goliath, once again.

    3) Since when have “full-figured” or “plus-sized” women been referred to as “XL?” Because that sounds much worse. I’d never lend my likeness to a campaign celebrating me as being “XL” anything. Almost.

  3. Seems like a pretty measured response to what was a highly publicized, misguided publicity stunt.

  4. @DMBurrows: Since SMU is my academic home, I feel qualified to speak on this issue. No sorority woman on our campus would be caught dead writing something so catty for fear it would become public give her house and SMU the reputation you ascribe to them here. Speaking badly behind someone’s back is one thing. To put it in writing is quite another.

  5. “Though I could spend hours responding to your accusations and assumptions …”

    Didn’t she already? Oh wait, she’s not even half finished.

    Here it is with a a little copy editing:


    Dear Nancy Upton,

    I conceived the campaign. No one is getting fired over your stunt.

    It’s a shame that “bootylicous” was too much for you to handle. Actual jobs are created from natural — and completely normal — XL women, industrial workers that make them, retail employees that sell them and beyond. We may have to wait another decade for the mainstream to embrace something so simple.

    Perhaps I could shed some light on some issues. Spandex (and mutton chops circa 2004) are certainly easy targets. I represent a ton of people. You’re literally witnessing puberty!

    We have decided to award the prizes to contestants that exemplify beauty.

    Please feel free to contact me. I’ve got it (or if I don’t, I can touch the person that does!).

    Best of luck,

    Iris Alonzo
    Creative Director
    American Apparel

  6. Even more copy editing could help:

    Dear Nancy Upton,

    Along with four other women, I conceived of the Next BIG Thing campaign. We are very sorry that we offended you. Our only motive was to discover and celebrate the many beautiful XL women around the globe who enjoy our brand, and to promote the recent size additions to our collection.

    That’s it, that’s all. Well, that, and getting the media to talk about something other than all the protests directed against our “Best Bottom” campaign (last year), objections to our “overly sexualized” ads (last several years), Woody Allen’s lawsuit against us and, well, you know, all that stuff.

    Oh, and you’re not getting the contract.

  7. Smells like a future lawsuit. Nancy won the voting, AA got the publicity, someone owes someone some cash. An apology for this bitchy letter wouldn’t hurt either, but first the cash.

    Also, D should hire her as a model. Make a statement.

  8. I guess I am super naive, but I am taken aback that they copied media outlets on this letter. I don’t care what sizes their company starts carrying, or who they think they are representing, I wouldn’t wear anything from there, ever. Their clothes are lame, the company has serious harassment issues and I think it’s poor taste to attack someone just because they had the audacity to point out what we all knew about the company.

    Plus, this email is totally Skinny Bitch.