To Glossier: A Call for Accountability and Necessary Change

*Editor’s note: This letter was initiated and drafted prior to retail layoffs August 7th.

Your first day working at Glossier’s Flagship isn’t unlike walking into a movie’s slumber party in full swing: you step off an elevator and all the walls are “blush-toned”, everyone’s wearing the same pink pajamas, a cluster of people are laughing, another is sharing a bag of chips while discussing the latest cultural reset. Once you reassure just one pink-clad person that no, you aren’t looking for the store downstairs, it’s your first day — everyone warmly says hello as you’re welcomed into the dewy trenches. Many of us remember that day as one we made dozens of friends at once, but often turn somber. A maxim among offline editors (that’s what we retail associates are called): “this company does a lot of stuff wrong, but the one thing they do right is hire great editors.” That hiring strength becomes the sole source of support many editors know in their time with Glossier. We nurture true commitments to one another as coworkers and friends alongside the budding realization that many of us were duped by the pink brand from Instagram.

We were told that a “good personality” is paramount in screening for new hires to ensure a warm, friendly, unpretentious atmosphere (prior experience a distant qualifying factor), but likability is subjective. We knew Flagship leadership’s definition to be laced with biases against vocal BIPOC. They were ill-equipped to guide a diverse team through the unique stressors of working in an experiential store and assisting customers who are often justifiably frustrated with the disorienting Flagship model. A little less frequently, customers would air that frustration by being flagrantly discriminatory toward us. We’d find ourselves at the end of hostile interactions on the sales floor and braced for one with a manager — if we could find one. We couldn’t trust them to diffuse or mitigate the harm of incidents like:

  • A man who’d felt entitled enough to massage an editor without her consent
  • A customer grabbing a Black editor by the face to “show off” her complexion to a friend
  • Repeatedly permitting a woman to enter the store whose sole engagement was with Latinx workers, who she would disparage as “illegals”
  • A group of chaperoned white teens who’d come in near our closing time and applied some of our darkest complexion products in gleeful blackface
  • Or, even after countless complaints, management wouldn’t fire a manager who would routinely confuse BIPOC editors’ names

On most occasions, we editors had come to expect no intervention and little recourse — not even reassurance of our safety. HR is a dead-end resource; over a span of years incidents filed — including some workers’ compensation claims — either haven’t been escalated or even diminished during the reporting process. We were more than welcome to “take a few minutes” after moments like those above to cry or otherwise calm down — after we’d seen the transaction through. By contrast, when a customer voiced their dissatisfaction with an interaction to a manager, they were often gifted products — sometimes refunded the entirety of their purchase — to ensure they left Glossier happy. It’s a perverse implementation of the “surprise and delight” marketing strategy given the severity of some of these incidents. Many at the senior management level had backgrounds not in retail nor beauty, but in hospitality. Their approach cultivated a commitment to a customer satisfaction that undermined workers’ wellbeing, and 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.

We recognize that incidents like these can be the pitfalls of working in retail. Many of us have before, and everyone at some point has been a customer and seen outrageous things. But we staunchly believe the idea that a sale supersedes the humanity and dignity of an employee is abhorrent no matter where someone works, and came to Glossier because of its emphasis on human connection. Unfortunately, we were worn down by the contrast of the idyllic culture presented to us online, in our first days with Glossier, and the weight of our daily indignities. “Fewer than 5% of applicants get hired” was a managerial refrain, and used in every context as a stealthy cudgel against our frustrations: both “we chose you, and it’s difficult to get chosen” and “there are many more people eager should you have too many complaints”. It was hardly said straight out, but Glossier’s customers are effectively an avid fanbase and nearly three million strong. Former editors exasperated with the company’s inability to adhere to its own published values have often sounded a death knell upon quitting, advocating for those still working at the store — but they left knowing that there was a young fan who, as long as they keep “cool” and were affable, would soon replace them and make fewer demands.

The company is nothing if not a slick presentation, but that’s a part of the problem. Glossier is still a small start-up with just under 400 employees including retail, under 250 as of the retail layoffs August 7 (for comparison, Sephora employs about 20,000 people and Deciem close to 1,000). That leaves a lot of room to overwork people and made individuals feel personally responsible for the store’s basic functioning. The brand emanates progressivism, but many of the workplace abuses you’ve heard coming from booming boy’s club tech companies happened to us, too; they were facilitated by the same “dynamic” “rapid growth” strategies that privilege the bottom line at the expense of the people who bring the brand to life. We were the backbone of Glossier’s offline experience and demand that, going forward, the company’s virtue signaling actually extends to its hourly employees. The majority of us editors were LGBTQIA+ and/or BIPOC — a glaring divergence from corporate #PullUp data — but were “managed” in a conventionally vertical structure helmed overwhelmingly by white women. We know that Glossier branding is subtly aspirational, projecting independence and effortless cool in a “diverse” post-discriminatory point in the future; it’s playful — even friendly — but we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the air of individual inaccessibility nested in that brand identity. After all, we aren’t thin French women who are “creative directors” with blemish-free skin who moonlight as socialites. We just saw the appeal. Regardless, the mantle was still passed on to us as de facto human touch points for a virtual beauty mood board.

Things weren’t so pleasurable behind the scenes for us: the penthouse “showroom” was outfitted with non-functioning air conditioning during a NYC summer; we violated occupation limits of the penthouse with our sales team alone; we worked through and alongside construction of the Flagship space (one inspector: “the dumb girls in the pink don’t even know what kind of fumes they are inhaling.”). Despite editors’ feedback, recycling to scale with daily operations still hasn’t come to fruition. Our first premises were rat-infested. In fact, despite at one point sharing a building with our headquarters and corporate team — sometimes using literal space, like desks, for lunch — we couldn’t have had a more disjointed work experience. We would seek reprieve from lunch on a damp room’s floor riddled with rat waste because we retail employees lacked a break room of our own, and some corporate employees didn’t hide their disgust. None of that mattered — we were living the start-up dream of shaping Glossier IRL and assured there was even possibility for growth in such a fast-moving company. Those are the breaks, so you roll with them as you throw the company in your Instagram bio.

Editors danced around management’s many hindrances in attempts to preserve our wellness; a constant push-and-pull that strained our psychological and emotional resolve: we were described as a family, but prohibited from even joking “too loudly” in employee-designated spaces. Longtime editors who applied for corporate positions, led to believe ours is a viable path when interviewing for the editor role, were eventually told by management that there wasn’t possibility for growth after all. A culture of favoritism disadvantaged self-advocating editors, particularly those of us who are BIPOC. In the wake of our mystifying biannual evaluations, there was an insurmountable and inexplicable wage gap among people who held the same position. We were encouraged to announce our pronouns with company stickers on our uniforms, but there was no recourse for people who didn’t use them — customers or employees. The diversity of us editors was meant to present Glossier’s inclusive value where corporate #PullUp for Change data failed (over 75% of nonwhite editors were Black). We were solicited for input on anything from store procedure to product development — without pay. (No, we didn’t “get to” go to Camp Glossier either.) Those dialogues initiated by our leadership boomeranged on us in performance reviews wherein we learned how much they bristled at our feedback: when Glossier expanded the colors of its complexion products from five to twelve (and three to five for Wowder), many of us were concerned about how they looked. Several editors who voiced concerns about the unflattering undertones for darker colors “earned” negative reviews that referenced those critiques specifically, and low raises if they received one. As these aggressions have accumulated, it’s a wonder why we’re compelled to assemble and call for a better company at all.

Glossier is in a unique position to work with former retail employees who truly want to see it be better. Many of us responded to the progressivism advertised even subtly, and want to push the company on its own purported values. While we’ve all been isolating these past few months, editors have tried to reconcile that tension internally, reaching out to corporate via Zoom calls and emails to no great effect. We know Glossier prioritizes customer feedback, and we’re encouraged by followers’ excitement around the million-dollar initiative to fund Black-owned businesses and organizations. We’re appealing to that “people-powered beauty ecosystem” in hopes of evoking meaningful changes for whomever may follow and fill our roles. Even the Instagram caption on the grant’s announcement admitted: “we have a lot more to do, both within Glossier and beyond.” Per that admission, it’s only fair that followers know what has to be addressed within to help narrow the focus. A brand founded on women’s true expectations of their beauty routines was pretty revolutionary, but our experiences remind that a company founded by a woman does not insulate it from racism; does not excuse its anti-Blackness and work culture that renders its broadest tier of employees disposable. So, if Glossier is ready to truly step up, we’re willing to give them the tools to start — our demands are as follows: ♦

Glossier’s cult status as the millennial pink 1.2 billion-dollar (valuated) beauty brand was largely secured thanks to their vow to “democratize beauty”. We as a collective of former retail employees– aka “editors”– have experienced an ongoing insidious culture of anti-Blackness, transphobia, ableism, and retaliation. We know the proclaimed brand values of inclusivity, accessibility, and equity should apply to us. We ask Glossier’s devoted community: if this democratization is only achieved by perniciously silencing Black and Brown editors and without treating marginalized staff equitably — have they democratized beauty at all, or is it more of the same?

The “people-powered beauty ecosystem ✨” touted by Glossier has less to do with celebrating individuality through accessible and diverse products (ex: their Perfecting Skin Tint initially had just five shades) and more with pushing a hyper-specific beauty regime that prioritizes whiteness. The Glossier “propaganda machine” is optics-based, courting a somewhat diverse customer base at the expense of those who actually sell their products. It is at this point that calling Glossier “democratic” rings hollow, where every suggestion from us editors that would open up the brand to be more inclusive is not only dismissed, but miscast as insubordination and not being a “team player”. This miscasting is disproportionately leveled against BIPOC editors and thus part and parcel of a racism whose genealogy spans decades. To be truly anti-racist or to desire true inclusivity is to destabilize and agitate rather than work towards peace and justice–that notion also applies to a beauty company.

Find us on Instagram and Twitter @outtathegloss.

Outta The Gloss is a collective of former Glossier retail employees.