Former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney Speaks Out for First Time Since Ouster

Dov Charney talks about being at war with the company he built.

ByABC News
March 27, 2015, 10:02 PM

— -- For the first time since his ouster, former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney is talking publicly about being at war with the company he built and overcoming a reputation tarnished by allegations of sexual misconduct and mismanagement.

"I want everybody to know I’m not 'the Sleaze King,'" Charney told ABC News' "20/20" in an exclusive interview. "'The Sleaze King' is another guy."

Since being fired as the chief executive of American Apparel in December, Charney, 46, claims he is broke, but still lives in his 10-bedroom Los Angeles mansion where he plots his return to power. Inside his master bedroom suite, which he calls his “war room,” the walls and mirrors are covered in a collage of notes and newspaper articles.

“I've had a minute being on the outside to re-strategize how I want to take the company, you know, control of the company again, and I intend to,” he said.

To some of his employees, Charney was - and still is - a hero. There have even been rallies of garment workers who believe he can save the troubled California-based company.

But Charney is not universally adored. He is also infamous for building the brand by pushing the limits of good taste and sexual propriety when it came to marketing its clothing. Charney was criticized for using young models in provocative ads, but he says the models just looked younger than their real ages.

“I’m sure we pushed the envelope too far a couple of times,” he said. “That’s why you make the next ad right away.”

When he founded the company in 1989, the American Apparel brand distinguished itself by being a company that, against every trend, manufactured clothing in the U.S. and paid its workers far above the industry average.

“A good worker can make $13, $14 bucks an hour and their colleagues are working in sweatshops where they're paying cash for $5,” Charney said.

By 2005, the company was growing by leaps and bounds, earning $211 million in profits. Two years later, it went public.

For Charney, it was always about breaking boundaries, which became the driving force behind both his rise and fall.

As profits rose, so did allegations that his sexual enthusiasm wasn’t just a marketing ploy, but that it also created a sexually charged, hostile work environment. Charney denies ever sexually harassing an employee.

“I’ve never engaged in any activities that could be characterized as sexual harassment,” he said.

Despite his denials, Charney has been the subject of numerous scandalous headlines and lawsuits, many revolving around sex. Charney admits to sleeping with employees, but says everything was consensual and denies any wrongdoing.

“All those accusations against me are crap,” he said. “There’s allegations… we’ve resolved them. None of it — none of these allegations - were ever proven.”

When asked if he knew how many times he had been sued for sexual harassment, Charney said, “Maybe a dozen, maybe less.” He added that some of the lawsuits were settled and others were dismissed.

Despite the allegations, American Apparel’s board continued to keep Charney on as CEO for years, until this summer.

“The experience of two, three years, yeah, we lost a couple a hundred million dollars,” he said. “I never thought it would be such a difficult job.”