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How American Apparel is doing some good (yes, really) ahead of the Sochi Olympics

People passing by near Yonge and Gould streets in Toronto look up at an American Apparel store billboard.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

If a story about American Apparel makes you want to chuck tomatoes at your computer screen, at least take a few seconds to read how the clothing company is supporting a new and important initiative.

On Monday, Stuart Elliott of The New York Times reported about the launch of Principle 6, a line of "protest merchandise" that will be promoted by athletes leading up to the Olympics.

The idea is the brainchild of All Out and Athlete Ally, two organizations working toward ending homophobia, in the sports world and beyond.

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There is concern that Russia's recently passed law forbidding gay people to express affection in public will lead to discrimination during the Olympics.

Already, All Out has a video on its website and is promoting the hashtag #lovealwayswins.

But the American Apparel-produced T-shirts represent a broader campaign that underscores one of the main tenets – principle six – from the charter of the International Olympic Committee, whereby "any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

Elliott notes that this strategy both addresses the issue without ruffling any Olympic feathers, especially since "the Olympic committee is zealous in its policing of the use of the words "Olympic" or "Olympics" by anyone other than its members and official sponsors."

No one from American Apparel – including its outspoken founder Dov Charney – is quoted in the article. But several athletes have already confirmed their participation. Tennis player James Blake and football player Chris Kluwe will be modelling the merchandise online, while New Zeland speed skater Blake Skjellerup and alpine skier Mike Janyk from Canada will support the Principle 6 in Sochi (the former is gay, the latter is not). Already, Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff has emerged as the campaign face; she came out as a lesbian in June.

The article quotes Athlete Ally board member Bryan Ellner as calling the merchandise "a safe way for both fans and athletes to be visible and take a stand."

Most critically, the campaign allows people to understand how the anti-gay laws do not mesh with the spirit of the Olympic games; and that by gathering supporters under the Principle 6 banner, the organizers hope people become part of a team that transcends both nationality and gender.

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And if it so happens that American Apparel is producing the T-shirts, then the company deserves more credit than flak.

You can find out more about Principle 6 here. And then you can decide whether or not to purchase the merchandise (which is now available online and in stores as of Jan. 1). Here's betting it will be this year's answer to Canada's beloved red mittens.

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