Brandy Melville’s Brand Image and Work Environment Impacts M-A Students

2 mins read

Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion, released on April 9, exposes the alleged corruption within the viral teen clothing brand Brandy Melville. Oscar-winning director Eva Orner explores the dark side of the ever-so-popular brand, investigating allegations of racism, disregard for staff wellbeing, promotion of disordered eating and unrealistic body images, and the fast fashion industry as a whole. 

Additionally, the brand itself has been called into question due to its one-size-fits-most policy, which many accuse of blatantly promoting disordered eating and unrealistic body images upon impressionable teen girls. The original policy was worded as “one size fits all,” which subjected the brand to swarms of criticism, but many feel the wording change is still not enough and urge them to implement more diverse sizing. 

When the brand expanded to the United States in 2009, it quickly built an image of California-based style through social media marketing and partnerships with retail giants such as Nordstrom and Pacsun. At the same time, Brandy continued to hire employees who fit the aesthetic and body image that they promote through their sizing and advertising campaigns, primarily white, skinny teenage girls. 

CEO Stephan Marsan, who has always remained a mysterious figure in the brand’s bureaucracy, has found himself in deep water as damning allegations circulate regarding a group chat of Brandy’s top executives sharing jokes about Hitler and the Holocaust, as well as photoshopped images of Marsan on Hitler’s body that he supposedly made himself. 

In recent years, discussions have expanded to questioning the brand’s ethics and workplace standards. In her documentary, Orner brings many accusations from former employees who allege that they were exposed to dangerous ideals that reinforce disordered eating and other mental health issues related to body image. 

For example, many former employees were accused of being required to send “full-body outfit pictures” to their managers before clocking in; these images have been rumored to be relayed to executive employees and subjected to criticism and inappropriate commentary, often from inside Marsan’s circle. The documentary thoughtfully highlights the former employee’s testimony about how this paradigm severely impacted their mental health—and continues to.

The documentary thoughtfully highlights the former employee’s testimony about how this paradigm severely impacted their mental health—and continues to.

Brandy Melville’s Downtown Palo Alto location is one of its 11 California stores. Many M-A students shop there, and some work there. One former employee and M-A student said, “I never went through a formal hiring process, interview, or submitted a resume; all I did was send an inquiry with my Instagram username, and I got the job.” 

Other subjects of the documentary include the proliferation of the fast fashion industry, which has led Brandy to amass profits despite ensuing environmental destruction. Brands such as Brandy Melville utilize fabrics derived from plastics that are meant not to last long and to be replaced as they begin to wear.  Another anonymous student said, “I understand the concerns with the environmental costs of shopping at Brandy [Melville], but it is one of the only trendy brands that are not outrageously expensive while still being of decent quality; personally, I don’t find myself having to throw away the clothes from there too often, they usually last around two years.” 

Overall, the debate around fashion ethics and how it pertains to Brandy Melville and its practices is a lively discussion encompassing teens and students with various opinions and experiences. Brandy Melville is a brand with roots in our community as a shopping staple of Palo Alto. The brand’s toxic ideals surrounding body image and beauty standards affect teen employees and customers, many of whom go to M-A. 

Niklas is a sophomore at M-A. This is his first year in journalism. He hopes to write about local events and politics. In his free time, Niklas enjoys exercising and going to Coffeebar!

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