Paula Schneider on Running American Apparel and Fighting Cancer

Paula Schneider on Running American Apparel and Fighting Cancer


Why did you take the job?

It was in my wheelhouse. It was manufacturing. It was huge, massive, challenging. But it was also a little bit mission-driven. There were 9,000 people working for the organization, mostly in cutting, sewing, pattern making, all of the things that are lost arts. If that company were to cease to exist, all of those people would not have other places to go to.

What surprised you when you arrived at American Apparel?

Everything surprised me. I had never seen anything like it. I had a warehouse of mannequins that were in all kinds of sexual positions. We couldn’t use them in the stores, but there had to be a million dollars that was spent on those mannequins.

What had gone wrong at that company?

Well, the organization had lost $400 million in the five years prior to me getting there, so it wasn’t healthy by any stretch. I don’t think even the board understood how close to the edge it was. I got there and did my first 13-week cash flow analysis and saw we were going to hit the skids. That’s when I started to furlough employees. They felt like I was taking money out of their pocket, when what I was really trying to do was save the whole organization.

I understand things got heated.

It was the right business decision, but when you’ve got a work force that is barely making it, it’s hard. Think of cutters and sewers working for minimum wage. If you’re giving them one less day a week to work, it’s really hard for them to support their families. I get that.

Then there was a group that filed for a union bid. And they’re out there every day saying, “Paula Schneider’s going to move manufacturing to a different country. Paula Schneider’s a liar. Paula Schneider did this.” I had bodyguards during that time. My daughter had bodyguards at college. There were threats made. It was a pretty intense period.

How had Dov’s behavior affected the company culture?

I can’t really talk to what Dov did or didn’t do. I think there’s enough articles that were written about that over the years. There were certainly a lot of challenges at American Apparel. If the #MeToo movement had been going on then, my guess is that there would have been a lot harsher outcomes at the time. I’m sure there’s going to be a great movie about it someday, because “The Wolf of Wall Street” ain’t got nothing on this.

Why did you accept the role at Komen?

It’s a personal journey to make a difference here and have a different kind of legacy, because this [expletive]’s got to stop. My mom died of metastatic breast cancer. I had it. My sisters had melanoma. My brother died of metastatic prostate cancer. I have two daughters.



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