Brandy Melville is an Italian clothing and fashion accessories brand, marketing its products to teenage girls and young women. Silvio Marsan and his son, Stephan Marsan established the brand in 1970 in Italy. The fictional tale of two people – Brandy, an American girl, and Melville, an English guy who met in Rome and fell in love inspired the brand’s name and logo.
Though the brand originated in Europe, Brandy Melville adjusts their pricing, clothing styles, and accessories for their American customers by taking their “store style” photos of the clothing that the customers wear shopping in-store. To keep a European aesthetic within American stores, the brand marks the prices of clothing items with a fake “euro”. One “euro” equals one American dollar. The company sells its products in physical stores in places such as Europe, the United States, Asia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and on their website.
Brandy Melville has been defined as trend-setting, relevant, cool, and bold fashion. The brand’s apparel offers clothing in only one size except for some styles of jeans. Brandy Melville’s one-size-fits-small aspect backfired on itself and has brought criticism and controversy upon the company, with some customers unable to fit into the brand’s clothing items, considering their size to be too big or small.
It is interesting to note that Brandy Melville’s product research team consists of teenage employees starting at age 15 in an attempt to keep the company’s styles relevant and contemporary. The company does not employ traditional advertising techniques. However, they depend heavily on social media for their advertising. Brandy Melville’s Instagram account has 3.9 million followers.
Brandy Melville’s first retail store opened in 2009, bordering UCLA in the Westwood neighbourhood of Los Angeles. By 2015, the brand grew to 95 stores worldwide. In a similar way to Primark, the stores place little to no emphasis on advertising and rely merely on social media and word-of-mouth. Brandy Melville’s clothing line is extended to some pop-up stores in Nordstrom and PacSun. The store’s return policy states that clothing may be exchanged or returned for store credit within 14 days of purchase and all accessories and intimates are final sales.
The bold and contemporary fashion range is what Brandy Melville is known for. The media subjects it to a lot of negative exposure. For instance, in July 2020, netizens far and wide accused the company of discriminatory and exclusionary tactics within its physical retail stores. According to reports, the company prefers to only hire white girls to work in their stores and only photographs white customers for their “store style” research imagery.
“The Cut” published an article last year titled “The Secret Shame of Wearing Brandy Melville”. Social-Media being Brandy Melville’s go-to advertising platform has had an influencer sporting one of their ribbed tanks with the caption: “I just love their tanks and tees, Though I know it’s kind of a [emoji of a trash can] brand.”
Now, while this might come off as a shocker that one of the world’s most popular fashion brands among teenage girls is at the centre of a racism storm after claims that company bosses circulated ‘deplorable’ messages targeting black people.
Celebrities including pop star Ariana Grande wear the Brandy Melville line. It is such a phenomenon on Instagram it is dubbed as the first retail ‘Insta-brand’.
It has stores all over the world, including London, and is criticized for its disproportionate use of white models and a lack of diversity among its store staff. Documents lodged in a Californian court have now made extraordinary claims about racist policies at the heart of the firm. Former operators of Brandy Melville made the allegations in Canada as part of a wider dispute about licensing, centre on material exchanged on a phone text group called ‘Brandy Melville gags’.
It includes a picture of a Hitler lookalike crying at the racial diversity of pictures of modern European men and a National Geographic picture of an early human juxtaposed with a young black man.
Another image shows a woman holding a T-shirt at an angle to make it spell ‘Hitler’. Allegations are that Brandy Melville’s most senior executives circulated the material among themselves.
Scott Gizer, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said: ‘It’s shocking to me that such a large company would tolerate this.’
The complaint against Brandy Melville says: ‘[The] postings featured deplorable written messages and pictures targeted at persons of colour.’
It is also alleged an executive shut down a store in Canada because ‘the clientele …were ‘ghetto’, insinuating the customer base was mostly ethnic minorities that did not fit in with the brand’s ‘image’.’
The same executive is accused of complaining the store needed to hire ‘attractive white girls’. The store operators in Canada say they believed it was illegal to hire and fire staff on looks and ethnic origin.
Bastiat USA, which trades as Brandy Melville, has not yet filed a defence to the legal complaint lodged at the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Neither Bastiat USA nor Brandy Melville responded to requests for comment.
Brandy Melville’s response to these allegations of corporate racism will be critical to its future success. If the company expects to remain a leader in the fast-fashion sector, it must take its customer base seriously and respond to the concerns of those who look up to Brandy Melville as a lifestyle brand.
If Brandy Melville fails to address issues of discrimination within its own organisation, there will be real consequences for an already-struggling company. Brandy Melville’s corporate racism must not be ignored or brushed under the rug. With any luck, this new lawsuit will bring more attention and leverage to an important issue that has gone unaddressed for far too long.
As of June 2020, people are protesting the business practices of Brandy Melville following the accusations made in a series of videos by a famous TikTok user who stated she used to work on the chain.
In a series of videos posted to the social media site TikTok, a disgruntled ex-Brandy Melville employee accused the fashion shop of racism and fat-shaming.
Callie had posted over a dozen videos on her experiences working at Brandy Melville and others in which she was addressing people’s concerns, the first of which had been seen more than 6 million times.
She said in the recordings that workers were instructed not to wear makeup and were given a script to follow when dealing with customers who couldn’t fit into the store’s one size fits all clothes. She said in one video that when she was working there, “fatphobic” and “racist remarks” were made “all the time.”
Brandy Melville did not immediately reply to a request for comment from FOX Business about her accusations.
The first video regarding user Calliejeanxo’s experiences working at the retailer, which she stated she did for three months in 2013, was posted on May 24.
She stated in the video how she was recruited as a 17-year-old with no work experience, and how after only two weeks, another individual approached her and asked for a job. Although she didn’t specify where she worked, she later clarified that she was on the West Coast in a later video.
Callie stated that she requested the individual’s résumé and delivered it to her supervisor.
“My boss looks at it for like half a second and she had all this amazing stuff on there and she goes, ‘What does she look like?’” She said.
Callie held back her location but stated that she was somewhere on the West Coast, went on to say that when she struggled to characterise the candidate’s looks, her employer pressed her to answer “what race” the candidate was.
Callie claimed in the video that she told her employer the woman was Asian, and after a short look at her, her employer instructed her to tell her, “No, tell her we’re not hiring.”
Over the next two weeks, she uploaded more than a dozen similar videos, each of which included further details on her experience with the company as well as responses to comments.
In one video, she stated that the business recruits primarily on appearance and that staff are not permitted to use cosmetics. In another video, she stated that the style of a shop was entirely up to the individual manager.
The shop supervisors harassed employees depending on the body type in the same video, Callie stated.
One employee, she added, was “bigger than the rest of us” and had to keep behind the cash register counter “so no one could see her body.”
She remarked, “It was so f—-ed up.”
However, Brandy Melville is not the only retailer being criticised for using discriminatory tactics. Anthropologie responded to claims that workers used the pseudonym “Nick” for black customers at their stores on Thursday.
The brand was not attacked for a lack of inclusiveness for the first time. Notoriously, Brandy Melville has only one size of clothes. Callie stated this in her video, telling her and other staff how to understand the rules without “offending” consumers.
The company stated in an Instagram post: “Regarding allegations of racial profiling, we have never and will never have a code word based on a customer’s race or ethnicity.”
Former Brandy Melville Canada owners are suing Brandy Melville USA management for allegedly unfair business tactics in punishment for the plaintiffs’ failure to comply with anti-discrimination policies.
According to the plaintiffs, Yvan Marsan, who represents Bastiat USA Inc., a Santa Monica-based producer of fashion brand Brandy Melville, ordered the Canadian owners to close their Square One store in April 2017 because of the “ghetto” clientele.
“The statement that was made to my client was ‘We want you to shut down this store, we don’t like the clientele they are too ghetto and they don’t fit our brand’, and when they were referring to ghetto they were meaning African American,” the plaintiffs’ counsel, Scott Gizer, claimed. “When my clients refused to do that, that is when the retaliation against them occurred and ultimately their licenses were terminated.”
The suit claims that Marsan also complained “that they needed to hire ‘attractive white girls’ that would fit in the aforementioned ‘image’ of Brandy Melville brand, that they shouldn’t have hired the manager of the Newmarket store because she was ‘short and fat’ and they should close that store as well because of the clientele in the store.” The filing states that “these requests were later echoed and reaffirmed by Stephan Marsan, president of Bastiat.”
The alleged Brandy Melville racism scandal sheds light on what could happen to your brand if you allow discriminatory practices to flourish. It’s one thing to have a few instances of racism in your company and another to perpetuate it, but doing nothing and letting it go on is even worse.
Brandy Melville is facing accusations of racism after its latest ad campaign featured a white model wearing cornrows.
This isn’t the first time Brandy Melville has faced allegations of cultural appropriation and tone-deaf advertising campaigns. In 2016, consumers were outraged when they noticed that two models in one photo shoot both had blackened eye makeup on — which some felt was inappropriate given recent events like police shootings and domestic violence against women of colour.
A few months later, customers accused another company owned by Pepin Group called Bluer Denim of appropriating Native American culture with its line printed with sacred symbols for indigenous tribes throughout North America (the brand denied any cultural insensitivity).
In a statement to the Huffington Post, Brandy Melville said that “it is never our intention to appropriate or exploit culture. We are sincerely sorry if we offended anyone and we will be following up with our merchandiser to be more conscious of these issues in the future.”
However, people are still not pleased with the brand’s response. “They should be wearing their own culture instead of appropriating ours,” one commenter wrote on Brandy Melville’s Instagram page. “It is disrespectful to black women in particular.” Some commenters said that while they believe in cultural appreciation and diversity, it isn’t OK for brands to use elements of other cultures as a form of marketing without consulting those groups first.
Others pointed out that cornrows are traditionally worn by African-American individuals — and therefore when white models wear them, it’s offensive (especially considering there has been a history of racism against black women).
“This is cultural appropriation at its finest moment,” one Instagram user wrote. “Why the f— would you do this? It’s disgusting.” Another commenter said that she had previously been a fan of Brandy Melville but will no longer shop there after seeing this campaign.
And one person pointed out that while there are plenty of white models wearing cornrows, they’re not walking around with their hair fully exposed and without any other clothing on — which some say sends an even more insensitive message about African-American women than just wearing braids alone.
Commenters on Brandy Melville’s Instagram page were still upset that the brand didn’t acknowledge why cornrows are offensive in their initial statement (and some said they would be boycotting the company until it did so), but at least it seems like they’re taking steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again. As a general rule, people should avoid cultural appropriation whenever possible — and if you aren’t sure about whether or not something is insensitive, just ask for advice before proceeding.
Cultural appropriation is defined as the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group. This can occur in many ways and is not always harmful, but it most commonly involves using other peoples’ religious symbols (such as sacred objects) or traditional dress.
Cultural appropriation has been a hot-button issue for a long time, particularly with college campuses, especially on the forefront. Many students have accused their peers who wear certain types of clothing such as sombreros, dreadlocks, dashikis and even bindi’s to be insensitive towards people who are from places where these things originated like Mexico and India.
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Although Brandy Melville has faced a barrage of accusations of discriminatory practices recently, they can reverse the damage done to their PR with some careful firefighting. They have the power to do this by issuing a public statement in which they’re clear about their commitment to diversity, and it needs to be a very specific statement.
There are four main areas that need clarification:
1. The company is transparent about its hiring process and the types of applicants that will receive an interview. This includes what kinds of people get “We’ll call you!” messages from Brandy Melville representatives instead of actual interviews, as well as who gets accepted for job positions at the company.
If Brandy Melville can prove that they actually hire employees based on experience and ability rather than appearance then many concerns over discriminatory practices will disappear.
2. They emphasise their commitment to promoting diversity throughout all levels of management within Brandy Melville stores. If they can demonstrate that diversity training is mandatory for upper-level managers, then it won’t seem like these problems could have come from store managers or district leaders with no knowledge or interest in the subject — especially if these workers are taking part in professional development workshops specifically designed around creating more diverse leadership teams (such as those offered by Women Who Tech).
Similarly, any such programs should also encourage workers at all levels to take steps towards advancing themselves professionally so they don’t feel stuck where they are; support networks encouraging them towards higher education would help improve things even more long-term since two years tends to be how long most retail employees stay with one store before moving on anyway (I know I did!). But it still doesn’t explain why there aren’t women working behind cash registers either…
3. Brandy Melville makes clear that they offer their employees the same opportunities for growth and advancement as similar companies in the field. This includes how long it takes to climb up from one level to another in terms of compensation, as well as whether there is any glass ceiling at all or if promotion within a store is based solely on merit. If this can be shown then it’s not discriminatory hiring practices keeping women from being hired; rather, it’s just part of the business model itself — but that still doesn’t explain why there aren’t more women working behind cash registers either.
4. They present statistics about their workforce demographics and compare them with other industries that have been seen as having issues with diversity (for example, tech fields like software development). It could also include comparisons between those who work directly face-to-face with customers versus those who work behind closed doors out of sight including warehouse workers.
For comparison purposes, you’d want to look at retail vs tech overall since each industry has its own unique challenges (retail workers rely heavily on customer service skills while tech jobs tend towards knowledge-based talent), but even so, looking for overlap may help point out similarities where they exist.
And if Brandy Melville can demonstrate that they actually hire employees based on experience and ability rather than appearance then many concerns over discriminatory practices will disappear.
This is the kind of public statement Brandy Melville needs to make in order to show that they are taking this seriously. It would also help a lot if they stopped with their silence and responded instead of waiting for people to talk about them — especially when those talking about them tend towards non-positive things like accusations of discrimination.
Article by: John Adarsh