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Signs of the Dov: The American Apparel Flea Market and the Search for the Next Top Billboard Model

On a recent Sunday, the downtown parking lot of the American Apparel Factory, at the corner of 7th and Alameda, was a sea of two-toned track shorts and Ray-Ban sunglasses. It was like stumbling into a photo shoot for one of the company’s billboards, with teenage girls wandering around in shiny tube tops, middle-aged men in hot-pink jump suits and college students wearing “Legalize L.A.” T-shirts. The one accessory everyone had in common: a clear trash bag filled with brightly colored clothing.

Click here for photos of the event.

The crowd was gathered for American Apparel’s second annual Factory Flea Market, a 12-hour sale of discounted garments accompanied by DJs, refreshments and inflatable Slip ’N Slides. The pink factory building towered over the tarp-covered parking lot, which was littered with heaps of damaged and surplus clothing. But there was no bargaining at this flea market. In fact, thousands of shoppers had to brave the heat to wait in winding lines and pay an entrance fee of $5 just for the privilege of browsing row after row of cardboard boxes brimming with T-shirts and more.

“We’ve been waiting for three hours,” said one woman in suspenders and skinny jeans, looking on enviously with her friends at the already-admitted shoppers. And they weren’t even at the front of the line yet. The people at the entrance had been waiting for up to five hours. But the woman and her friends’ reactions were unanimous. “It’s worth it. We love American Apparel clothes.”

They even came armed with their own canvas bags.

Once inside, some shoppers searched carefully through each box, while others made a mad grab of everything in sight, gathering their findings in carefully guarded corners. Others checked out the alleyway between the factory buildings, buying everything from snow cones to silk-screened shirts. A Spin Art booth was set up, as well as a neon green “Legalize L.A.” backdrop, where visitors could pose to have their photos taken, receiving a souvenir print with an American Apparel logo underneath. Other guests raced on the pair of oversized Slip ’N Slides before grabbing a vegan meal at the environmentally friendly food truck.

“Hey, it’s that guy who owns the company!” screamed a man excitedly from the line.

And sure enough, there was the infamous Dov Charney, clad in American Apparel’s finest: a white V-neck, striped tube socks, aviator sunglasses and a pair of khaki shorts that rested mid-thigh. He was weaving in and out of the crowd, casually snapping photos as if he was just another bargain shopper.

“Those journalists and their politically correct bull****,” he said, when asked about the controversy surrounding his business practices, which include charges of sexual harassment and accusations that he conducts meetings in his underwear. “This event is all about making great clothing people love to wear, at a bargain price. It’s a celebration of U.S.A. apparel.”

It did feel like the company went all out for the celebration. Hundreds of factory employees monitored the grounds, regulating the lines, working the registers under the shade of tents and sorting purchases into bags. After sunset, guests were treated to a multi-instrumental performance by French singer Sebastien Tellier, as well as vintage film screenings and a so-called “raving mad dance party.” The company even hired party photographer and L.A. Weekly photo columnist Mark Hunter, a.k.a. “the Cobrasnake,” to document the event.

But Hunter wasn’t the only one taking photographs. Company employees scoured the crowd with digital cameras in the hopes of finding the next American Apparel billboard star. Girls were asked to hold sheets of paper with their first names and phone numbers, while recruiters snapped photos.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m being totally scammed,’” said Isabel Craik, 15, who, in corduroy shorts and hand-sticked tank, had just finished posing for the photographer. “But now I’m totally psyched to be an American Apparel model.”

She held out a plastic bag to reveal her purchases: one shiny black bathing-suit bottom and a torn sweatshirt for the bargain price of $12.

God bless America.

Click here for photos of the event.