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Paying a living wage comes at a cost, but it can help the bottom line, says Charney, who has built a retail empire without resorting to cheap overseas labor. Daniel Gross talks to the controversial chief executive.

“The era of cheap labor is coming to an end,” says Dov Charney, the founder and chief executive officer of apparel chain American Apparel.

Dov Charney

American Apparel CEO Dov Charney in the company’s manufacturing facilities in downtown Los Angeles in 2010. (Ringo Chiu/Zuma, via Corbis)

For decades, the fabric and garment industries have been engaged in a constant chase for cheaper labor—from the mills of England to New England in the 19th century; to the sweatshops of the Lower East Side of Manhattan a century ago to textile plants in South Carolina in the first half of the 20th century; to the Philippines, South Korea, and China in the second half of the 20th century; and now to places like Bangladesh and Africa.

sharing

Pro-Cyclical

The Citi Bike program creeps into town.

New York City’s much-anticipated, much-delayed, much-debated bike-sharing program is starting to make progress. No bikes are yet available – the authorities have been talking about a Memorial Day launch. But in certain parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn the infrastructure is starting to appear, mostly in the form of docking stations. Including these in front of the Daily Beast’s headquarters on West 18th St.

Citi Bikes Pic 1

Dan Gross

Citi Bikes Pic 2

Dan Gross

HONEY TRAP

Bee Deaths Sting Ag

Nearly one-third of bee colonies perished last winter. A new study suggests the sudden decline in the population could take a big economic toll on the agricultural economy – far beyond declines in honey production.

Talk about a buzzkill. U.S. honey bee populations are continuing to dwindle and it could have drastic effects on agriculture The Wall Street Journal reports. A study released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 31 percent of bee colonies died this past winter—about 800,000 bees.

Honey Bees

A honey bee is seen at the J & P Apiary on April 10, 2013 in Homestead, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

The report is the latest in a serious of mass honey bee deaths reported over the past several years. A decline was first reported by beekeepers in 2006 and is attributed to multiple factors such as parasites, mal-nutrition, disease and parasites. A separate Department of Agriculture study released last week concluded that scientists could find no single cause for bee deaths.

Going Green

Patagonia’s New Venture Fund

Patagonia has proven that charging a premium for ecofriendly products is a solid business model. Now it’s starting an internal venture fund to seed likeminded green businesses.

Patagonia, the clothing company that is equal parts high-end outdoor apparel retailer and environmental advocate, has made a practice of giving one percent of its profits to nonprofit grass-roots environmental organizations. Now it’s looking to boost its profits by investing in for-profit sustainable businesses. On Monday the company launched $20 Million and Change, an in-house venture that will invest in startup businesses involved with food, water, energy or waste.

Patagonia

A climber relishes the majesty of the Cerro Torre massif and the Patagonian Ice Cap from a bivy atop Fitz Roy. (Mikey Schaefer, via Patagonia)

“We believe in our company’s long-term vision around the environment and areas we want to make change in,” Rose Marcario, chief executive officer of the company’s newly created holding company Patagonia Works, told The Daily Beast. “We know there are great entrepreneurs out there with really great ideas and resources and they could be the next Patagonia.”

FRAMED

Warby Parker’s Vision

The online glasses retailer has thrived with a unique business model: low prices, hip vintage frames, and a promise to donate glasses to people in the developing world.

Warby Parker’s first office was inside cofounder Neil Blumenthal's apartment, where the fledgling company's glasses samples were displayed across his dining-room table. Soon after, the startup took the plunge for a real office, in New York’s Union Square, and was promptly kicked out when an endless flow of customers broke the building’s one elevator.

Warby Parker

Three years since four Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania students conceived of the idea, Warby Parker has defied expectations. By bringing a personal, low-cost experience to customers—and combining it with an altruistic business model—the scrappy, Web-based startup has since shaken the traditional optical industry, which has long been dominated by massive companies like Luxottica.

WHAT’S UP?

Vertical Farms Take Root

The indoor, multi-level farms that are sprouting up near urban areas in the U.S. and abroad are helping to slash the distance produce travels from farm to table.

On average, food travels 1,500 miles  to get from distant fields to the typical dinner table. In colder weather, that number can rise drastically, when stores have to fly produce like blueberries and tomatoes in from tropical locales like Mexico and Peru.

Mega Vertical Farm

Just days after their seeds were planted, fledgling basil plants grow at the FarmedHere indoor vertical farm in Bedford Park, Ill., on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (Martha Irvine/AP)

But the arugula and basil produced year around at FarmedHere, a farm that opened in March outside Chicago, never travels more than 25 miles to market. And because the greens are grown in an indoor, multi-level facility, they’re available all year round.

DIG IT

Solar’s Jobs Juice

Coal accounts for a vastly larger chunk of electricity production than solar. But industry reports suggest there are more solar employees than coal miners in the U.S.

“America has more solar workers than coal miners,” declared a CNN report in late April that summarized a survey done by the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit research and advocacy group. The National Solar Jobs Census, released in November 2012, found that there were 119,016 “solar workers,” meaning employees “who spend at least 50% of their time supporting solar-related activities.”

About 57,000 of workers were engaged in the installation of solar-power equipment, up 9,000 from the year before, while about 30,000 worked in manufacturing, off 8,000 from 2011. All told, solar jobs grew 13.2 percent in 2012 from 2011, and are projected to increase by another 17 percent in 2013.

It’s Electric!

Ford’s Hybrid Surge

Long dominated by foreign automakers, electric and hybrid cars have a new sugar daddy: Ford, whose Fusion hybrids are powering ahead of the competition, writes Daniel Gross.

There’s an unlikely new player in the hybrid-car market: Ford.

For much of the past decade, innovation in using electricity to power vehicles has been powered either by foreign companies or by startups: Toyota has made the Prius a household name, and the three Prius models account for about 45 percent of hybrids sold every month. Nissan has invested huge sums to produce the Leaf, an all-electric vehicle made in Tennessee. Tesla Motors, the Silicon Valley startup, sold more pure electric vehicles in April than any other company—about 2,100, compared with 1,937 Nissan Leafs.

Ford Fusion

A 2013 Ford Fusion is displayed at the New York International Auto Show in New York on March 28. (Mike Segar/Reuters, via Corbis)

Americans’ fuel consumption is dropping—and so is the number of spots to fill up. From electric vehicles to natural-gas-powered fleets and Costco, a look at the culprits.

Say goodbye to the good old American gas station.

In April, The Wall Street Journal reported that the gas station on the corner of Houston Street and Lafayette in lower Manhattan—now a BP but formerly the iconic Gaseteria—would likely be closing soon. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a plan to knock it down and put up a seven-story building on the site it occupies. Last week, The Washington Post reported that gas stations are disappearing from D.C.’s close-in suburbs. “Along busy Wisconsin Avenue [in Bethesda, Maryland], two Exxons and a BP have stopped selling gas or have closed completely, making way for a high-rise apartment building and a new bank,” the Post reported. “A Sunoco, the area’s last Wisconsin Avenue station, is being sold to a developer with plans for a six-floor office building.”

New York Daily Life

A Gasland gas station is out of business on a cold winter day on the east side of Buffalo, New York, January 23, 2013. (David Duprey/AP)

ALOFT

Solar Plane Takes Flight

A solar-powered plane that can fly through the night has started its slow transcontinental journey.

The first electric plane that can fly both day and night with only the power from the sun’s rays began its first transcontinental flight Friday. The Sunseeker Duo from Solar Flight is flying from San Francisco to its final destination in Washington, D.C.—it’s expected to touch-down there mid-June—stopping at Phoenix, Dallas, and St. Louis along the way.

130503-solar-plane-tease

In this image provided by Solar Impulse, the sun-powered plane The Solar Impulse takes off from Moffet Field in Mountain View, Calif., for a successful test flight over the Bay Area on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. (Solar Impulse/AP)

The plane can theoretically fly continuously, but its pilots will only fly it at 12 hour spans.  The Sunseeker has the wingspan of a 747 and a body the same size as a sedan. But although its creators hope to eventually sell it commercially, the plane has its limitations. It cruises at 43 miles per hour and has about a 10 horsepower engine, no larger than the Wright brothers' original vessel. It also can’t land in choppy conditions or fly through clouds.

Shame on You, Walmart!

With an Ohio Walmart hosting a holiday food drive for its own workers, The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky criticizes the notoriously stingy company for not paying them more.

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