Dov Charney's New Company Ordered To Close After Coronavirus Outbreak Infects More Than 300 Workers

Los Angeles Apparel advertises masks made of French terry fabric. Photograph: Stephanie Olson/Los Angeles Apparel

In March, when Los Angeles Apparel first began manufacturing and selling face masks made of French terry cotton, CEO Dov Charney — who previously founded American Apparel — was praised for his ingenuity and business savvy.

Despite having been fired from American Apparel after numerous allegations of financial mismanagement and sexual abuse, The New York Times included Charney in an article about American fashion industry leaders stepping up to fill the in the gaps of America's medical supply shortage.

Los Angeles Magazine categorized him as one of the city's business and thought leaders, noting his quick response to the COVID-19 crisis, which included ramping up production at his South L.A. factories and doubling the size of his staff.

By mid-May, the company had reportedly sold half-a-million masks.

The entreprenuer told Los Angeleno Magazine that his company had enacted a number of safety procedures in his factory, including social distancing and temperature checks at the start of each shift. "Ideally, I don't want one COVID case in here," Charney said in the interview, taking his temperature with a laugh.

Two months later, more than 300 employees of Los Angeles Apparel have contracted COVID-19 and four garment workers have died from the disease.

The Dept. of Public Health issued a press release on Friday that said Los Angeles Apparel "flagrantly" violated mandatory health guidelines. The department had ordered the company to shut down on June 27, after it failed to cooperate with an investigation of a reported coronavirus outbreak. Now the department is mandating "continuous closure" of the factory.

"Our paramount concern is for the safety of all employees and their families, and the department will continue to actively monitor Los Angeles Apparel and other manufacturing work sites to fully implement the infection control and distancing safety requirements at work environment for all employees," said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of the public health department.

Screenshot from Los Angeles Apparel's website

AN OUTBREAK AND AN ATTEMPT TO HIDE IT

The Dept. of Public Health was notified about the outbreak at the factory on June 19 and immediately opened an investigation. The first thing officials did was request a list of all employees from the company, so that contact tracers could compare employees' names with those who had tested positive and negative for COVID-19. According to public health officials, the leadership of Los Angeles Apparel declined to provide that list, despite multiple requests.

A Los Angeles Apparel employee (screenshot from Los Angeles Apparel website)

On June 26, public health inspectors conducted a site visit to the three factory locations and witnessed several health violations, including a lack of social distancing and infection controls for workers. In lieu of physical distancing, the company was reportedly using cardboard barriers between employees.

A week later, the company sent an incomplete employee list to DPH, reporting 198 positive results. When health officals examined the data, however, it became clear that there were actually more than 300 positive cases of infection. Officials told the company that employees could only return to work if they were fever-free for at least three days and had no additional symptoms.

According to the press release, Los Angeles Apparel then violated that health order by reopening with new employees. They even tried to stop DHP inspectors from entering the factory.

Now, Los Angeles Apparel is under orders to remain closed until they show compliance with public health mandates.

The DHP website has a list of business with major coronavirus outbreaks at the bottom of its coronavirus statistics page. Los Angeles Apparel has three locations on that list, all on East 59th Street. Two of those locations have more than 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19; the other location has 23.

Screenshot from Los Angeles Apparel's website

NOT THE FIRST TIME DOV CHARNEY IS IN HOT WATER

Dov Charney has long been at the center of multiple controversies, ever since the height of American Apparel's popularity in the early 2000s. Over the years, he has settled multiple allegations and five major lawsuits brought against him for sexual harrasment and rape.

Los Angeles Apprel owner Dov Charney in his South L.A. factory (screenshot from the Los Angeles Apparel website)

Charney was eventually outsed from his own company after the board of directors terminated him in 2014, citing his misuse of company funds and violation of policies prohibiting harrasment and retaliation against former employees. According to court filings, the company discovered "voluminous evidence of Mr. Charney's sexual liaisons with employees and models," adding that at least one of those encounters took place at his office.

Shortly thereafter, leaders of the company accused him of using ethnic slurs against workers and keeping videos on a company server of himself in sex acts with models and employees. In 2016, American Apparel declared bankrupcy.

Charney has said the allegations against him are false and that the reasons the company gave for ousting him were based on false information.

A man walks past an American Apparel store in 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Screenshot from Los Angeles Apparel's website

When Charney launched Los Angeles Apparel in 2016, several publications pointed out that he was essentially just starting the same company over again, with a new name. His new factory was only four miles away from his old one.

Like American Apparel, Los Angeles Apparel claims to care deeply about the wellbeing of its workers. UCLA invited Charney to lecture students in 2017, where he spoke about his passion for fair wages. A big selling point of the company's business model, brand identity and marketing strategy is its support for a fair living wage.

"We strive to pay our workers a living wage and we support the fight for $15 an hour," the values section of the website reads. "We believe in local manufacturing from an efficiency and an ethical point of view."

DHP has a hotline for reporting unsafe working conditions. The number is (888) 700-9995. Reports can be anonymous.