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American Apparel tells contest winner she really lost

Despite winning a vote to become the clothing brand's first plus-size model, a creative director told Nancy Upton she just didn't fit.


Lauren Rae Orsini


Posted on Sep 14, 2011   Updated on Jun 3, 2021, 2:46 am CDT

American Apparel is putting an end to this Nancy Upton business.

After Upton won the retailer’s Next Big Thing contest with a photo that she felt mocked the retailer as much as they’d mocked plus-size women, American Apparel creative director Iris Alonzo apparently sent a response last night to Upton and to nearly every press outlet that had covered the story.

In her lengthy email—which can be read as either snarky or sincere—Alonzo takes Upton to task and defends American Apparel’s treatment of plus-size people, noting that, despite reports to the contrary, American Apparel has long stocked basics in sizes up to 3XL.

But she does get to the bottom line at the end of the email:

“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.”


Alonzo also says that Upton got some facts wrong.

“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? “

Alonzo also addresses American Apparel’s last stint of bad publicity, when an employee told April Flores of overweight people, “That’s not our demographic.

“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,” wrote Alonzo.

The Daily Dot reached out to both Alonzo, whose email listed at the bottom of the letter matches that on a profile page for her on American Apparel’s website, and Ryan Holiday, who runs online strategy for the retailer, to verify the letter’s authenticity. (Several other news organizations also wrote about the letter.)

According to the phone operator at the office, the online strategy group sometimes does not arrive at work until noon.

However, Upton herself said she thinks the email is real.

“I would assume if a fake email went out and then people began to respond to it, that American Apparel would step up and say ‘hey, this is fake,’” she told us.

She didn’t want to comment beyond that. “I think I’ll let it speak for itself for a few days,” she said.

Culture Map Austin, one of the first press outlets to cover Upton—a Texan native—and her photo stunt, remarked that the response made American Apparel look like a “bully.”

“Clearly Alonzo didn’t feel the need to hold back in her response,” wrote Dan Solomon in his story. “After talking to Upton… it’s hard for us not to view her as the underdog here.”

The Village Voice, which also received the email, found the response to be contradictory to American Apparel’s previous statement:

“Funny contrast with the CEO’s attitude towards Upton’s project (‘That’s crazy; I like that.’), right?”

Upton, who said she received the response at 7:30 pm Central Time, said she did not plan to post it on her blog. However, once she discovered that many press outlets had been blind-carbon-copied on the email, she changed her mind.

“I had not intended to share any quotes or specific content from this email with anyone,” she wrote on Extra Wiggle Room. “I am only posting it here because I now assume it is fair game.”

Alonzo is no stranger to bad press. An American Apparel employee for eight years, she played an especially unflattering role in a 2004 profile of the retailer’s CEO, Dov Charney, in which she told a reporter she endorsed her boss’s habit of frequently masturbating at work, even in front of female employees.

Photo via Nancy Upton’s Tumblr

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*First Published: Sep 14, 2011, 3:37 pm CDT