When the coronavirus pandemic struck in early spring and personal protective equipment (PPE) quickly became scarce, Los Angeles Apparel pivoted from skimpy spandex to making masks with admirable speed. The government deemed the clothing retailer an essential business and ordered large quantities of masks for federal workers. But on July 10, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ordered the factory to shut down, after an investigation found more than 300 cases of coronavirus — including four deaths — among its garment workers.
Los Angeles Apparel was founded in 2016 as Dov Charney’s comeback venture. The controversial businessman was ousted as American Apparel’s CEO in 2014, amid allegations that he misused funds and knowingly allowed sexual harassment. While the success of his mask venture seemed to help repair Charney’s reputation in the industry somewhat, the forced closure of his factory casts fresh scrutiny on his business practices.
The health department cited “flagrant violations of mandatory public health infection control orders” and failure “to cooperate with DPH’s investigation of a reported COVID-19 outbreak,” according to a news release detailing the closure. Jan King, the regional health officer for South and West Los Angeles, told The New York Times there was a sense that Los Angeles Apparel wasn’t taking health and safety measures seriously. She said the factory’s infractions included cardboard dividers between workstations and coronavirus guidance materials that had not been translated into Spanish (the first language of most of its workers). The Los Angeles Apparel shutdown was one of the first forced closures of a factory in Los Angeles due to coronavirus, King noted.
Charney downplayed the seriousness of his factory shuttering as a coronavirus hotspot, calling the announcement by the health department “media theatrics.” He also released a lengthy statement responding to the closure, part of which read: “In all fairness, it’s morally irresponsible for the Health Department to speak on the infection rates at our factory without also addressing its connection to the issue at large: that the Latino community in Los Angeles is left vulnerable to Covid-19 in a healthcare system that provides no support with testing and no support or assistance for those that test positive.”
Los Angeles Apparel employs just shy of 2,000 workers in three buildings, Charney said. He noted that since the pandemic began, his company has made more than 10 million masks, roughly 80 percent of which went to government agencies. Charney and the health department are cooperating and hope to reopen the factory later this week, once “the facility is in full compliance with public health mandates.” But King noted the situation is tenuous. “Three hundred is a very concerning outbreak,” she said of the sickened factory workers.