Glossier, the oft-described “millennial” makeup company, was one of the first beauty brands to align itself with Black Lives Matter in June, when an Instagram post announced a million-dollar donation to racial justice organizations and Black-owned businesses. But behind the scenes, employees allege a hostile work environment where harassment went unchecked by upper management.
Last week, after CEO Emily Weiss announced in a blog post that she would lay off all retail employees and keep physical stores shuttered at least until the end of the year (“possibly for the duration of the pandemic”), an Instagram account was created. Dubbed @OuttaTheGloss, a play on Weiss’ original beauty blog Into the Gloss, former shop employees published an open letter detailing their experiences.
“We as a collective of former retail employees—aka ‘editors’—have experienced an ongoing insidious culture of anti-Blackness, transphobia, ableism, and retaliation,” it read. The workers claimed that management did not fire a top staffer who “would routinely confuse BIPOC editors’ names,” even after “countless complaints.”
Even as Glossier earned a billion-dollar valuation, its New York flagship store in Soho was “rat-infested,” the letter read, with “non-functioning air conditioning” during the summer. Shop staff were made to assist customers, even through racist incidents. According to @OuttaTheGloss, management “repeatedly [permitted] a woman to enter the store whose sole engagement was with Latinx workers, who she would disparage as ‘illegals.’”
Workers were not kept safe from other instances of harassment, including “a customer grabbing a Black editor by the face to ‘show off’ her complexion to a friend,” and “a man who’d felt entitled enough to massage an editor without her consent.”
“[Management’s] approach cultivated a commitment to a customer satisfaction that undermined workers’ wellbeing so completely that it strayed from conventional deference to the buyer and instead for an ingratiating model—one that was totally submissive and deeply humiliating, particularly for those of us who are BIPOC,” the letter read.
A note at the top of the open letter says that it was “initiated and drafted prior to retail layoffs August 7th,” though it was published on Medium August 13. Glossier stores have been closed since mid-March and staff have been furloughed; they will receive 12 weeks of severance and health-care coverage through October.
When reached by email, a member of @OuttaTheGloss declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment, writing, “We are currently not interested in speaking to anyone about our story at this time.” Representatives for Glossier did not respond to inquiries made by The Daily Beast.
@OuttaTheGloss included a list of demands for Glossier executives, including an open Zoom call between editors and higher-ups “focusing on elevating and equalizing BIPOC editor voices, the people who are most impacted by issues presented in our letter.”
The collective also called for Weiss and the management team to “publicly acknowledge pain they’ve caused and harm perpetuated through their many years of inaction,” to be posted on Instagram, Twitter, the brand’s website, and other social media platforms.
Along with that, @OuttaTheGloss asked for “quarterly company-wide anti-racism training,” which includes de-escalation training, “lived experiences of Editors as prompts,” and “an open dialogue between management and Editors on how to keep Editors safe.”
The retail employees also asked “to play an integral role in the hiring process of new managers.” They want to create a new system of performance evaluations, instigate a “No-Tolerance Policy” when it comes to racist customers, allowing for the “immediate removal of discriminatory and unsafe Flagship guests if necessary.”
Weiss, the brand’s 35-year-old founder, responded to the open letter with a blog post of her own one day later. According to Weiss, retail employees came in mid-June with “concerns around the work environment” of stores, which led to an investigation “with the added guidance of outside counsel.”
It was a two-week process, Weiss wrote, which included conversations with “more than a dozen retail team members” and led to the creation of a “plan to build a better work environment.”
The intentions included hiring new store managers and more HR support, charting “clear and compelling paths for career advancement at Glossier,” fine-tuning the “feedback loops between retail and corporate teams,” and “do[ing] a better job holding customers accountable for any behavior that is in violation of our values, especially when directed towards Black, POC, and LGBTQIA+ teammates.”
In an Instagram graphic, members of @OuttaTheGloss wrote about feeling “insulted” by Weiss’ response, calling it “performative and insufficient.”
So Glossier tried again on Monday, posting a statement on its main Instagram account, which has over 2.8 million followers.
“We’re so sorry that we didn’t create a workplace in which our retail employees felt supported in the most critical ways,” it began. The request for a Zoom call between former retail employees and management was granted, and participants will be “compensated for their time spent on the call.”
The letter doubled-down on some of the promises in Weiss’ original letter, adding that in the future stores will display a “code of conduct” setting “clear expectations on behavior.” Once shops have reopened, there will be quarterly town halls between staff and corporate leadership.
Later, @OuttaTheGloss thanked Glossier for the apology via a millennial pink Instagram graphic. “However, their work is not yet done,” it read. “This is only their first step.”