Brandy Melville isn't a stranger to controversy. As the brand became a go-to label for teen girls and college-aged shoppers, its "one-size-fits-most" sizing and nearly all-white models had critics calling out its exclusion, even as other brands, like aerie and Rihanna's Savage x Fenty, championed inclusion.
According to a new report from Business Insider, the situation at Brandy Melville was worse than that, with executives demanding full-body photos of sales associates — which were sometimes high school students — and forcing managers to terminate any individuals that higher-ups felt were off-brand.
"If she was Black, if she was fat … he didn't want them in the store," Luca Rotondo, a former senior vice president, told Insider of CEO Stephan Marsan. Rotondo was at Brandy Melville for nearly a decade and during his time there he said that he was instructed to fire "hundreds" of employees.
He shared one example with Insider, which showed a screenshot of a manager in Newport Beach, California, who had dark hair. In his native Italian, Marsan claimed that the location was "only hiring pieces of shit" and that they would dull the veneer that Brandy Melville had carefully cultivated: white, thin, and blonde.
And it goes further. Insider's report details antisemitism in addition to the blatant racism and sexism. Reporter Kate Taylor describes an instance where Marsan photoshopped his face onto Hitler's body for a group chat of executives (the threads also included pornography, the N-word, and more). Two separate lawsuits saw Canadian store owners fired after they went against Marsan's request to fire employees that didn't fit with his all-white, all-thin ideals. However, Bastiat USA, the company that operates Brandy Melville's United States stores (34 of the label's 94 locations are in the U.S.), denied that it "has ever fired an employee on account of his or her race." Marsan has never given an interview.
"If I could say anything to the owners, I would say: 'You had such an amazing opportunity to be a safe, inclusive space for young women, and instead you took advantage of them,'" Mina Marlena, a former employee, told Insider. The outlet also reports that top executives receive photos of candidates for retail positions to ensure that they maintain Marsan's standards.
"There was no sugarcoating it," a former New York manager said. "It was, 'She is skinny, white, blond, and pretty — let's hire her.'"
Employees also told Insider that they would "model" clothes for the executives and that some as young as 14 would take their tops off, believing that they would get raises if they did so or access to perks, like shopping sprees and nights at the brand's SoHo apartment. Some employees even accused Marsan of inappropriately touching them and sending underage employees alcohol.
While Brandy Melville continues to push its very specific brand of beauty, the world is changing and the label isn't keeping up. As groups of former employees gather (using group chats called Brand Survivors and similar names), they hope that the brand and its executives will be exposed and, if they get their way, shut down completely.
"Every year that goes by, the beauty standard is shifting a little bit," a Black employee who worked at Brandy Melville from 2016 to 2019 said. "And I feel like they're so out of touch still. They don't even try to keep up with the times. They're stuck in this whole 2013 bubble where they feel like young, skinny, blond-haired, blue-eyed girls should be the face of their brand. We're past that."
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