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  • Erica Patton

Brandy Hellville: The Cult Classic

By: Erica Patton

The clothing line Brandy Melville has remained a staple in many teens’ closets since 2014. From baby tees to bralettes, Brandy Melville has many basic pieces that have defined style for young girls and social media users. Just as we thought that this innocent brand could do no harm in the industry, Director Eva Orner dropped “Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion.”

"Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion film poster by Max

“Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion” poses as a documentary-style film with the motive to expose the fast fashion industry, labor exploitation and the questionable ethics of the popular brand Brandy Melville. The film follows a variety of past employees, supervisors and store owners who provide context and the truth of how terrible of a company Brandy Melville actually is.

The film begins with the ex-workers explaining the impractical hiring process that consists of hiring young attractive girls who fit Brandy Melville’s aesthetic but lack basic customer service skills. They also discuss the racial tendencies the company has had, including their need to place minorities in the back of the store, out of sight, and have skinny, white, conventionally attractive girls on the sales floor.

In addition to acts of discrimination, the documentary exposes that the company has faced several lawsuits in the past because of the same issue. In one case, a former Brandy Melville executive filed a lawsuit claiming that a store in Toronto because there were mostly people of color working for the store. The executive explained in the documentary that CEO Stephan Marsan claimed that the clientele was “ghetto,” and therefore, unfit for the Brandy image.

Among other issues, the film also unveils Brandy Melville’s “one size fits most” sizing approach, a sneaky way for the brand to express exclusivity to smaller-sized people. This approach was created by Brandy Melville CEO Stephan Marsan, who was particularly picky about what types of people worked in his stores. His obsession with young, attractive, white, female sales associates in his stores and on the Brandy Melville Instagram page reveals his need to cater to a very small demographic of people: the cult following of teenage girls who would do anything to work in a Brandy store, fitting in their petite-sized clothes.

Photo by USA Today

Ex-employees describe many odd traditions of Brandy Melville’s work culture via group chats with offensive humor by executives, and outfit check-ins demanded by Marsan. It was then found out that the pictures of underage teen girls and what they thought were “outfit checks” were also being saved on Marsan’s phone.

Many of the ex-employees addressed not only their desire to be a part of Brandy Melville’s upbringing but also their desperate want to fit the brand’s look. Almost all of the employees expressed that they battled with eating disorders and extreme body dysmorphia before and after working at Brandy. Along with employees, the documentary brings light to many issues amongst the brand’s followers who found themselves losing excessive amounts of weight to fit into this exclusive clothing.

A "one size fits most" sign in Brandy Melville by Pieces of the Week

With many issues within the brand itself, Orner’s monumental argument from the documentary concerned the ethics of fast fashion. Many clothing brands including Zara and Shein, utilize the convenience of extremely low prices and low-quality material to appeal to young shoppers looking for cheap clothes that are also in touch with the trends. However, at the expense of low prices brings a major increase in labor exploitation.

With a rise in fast fashion, Orner also includes individuals who spoke on the environmental issues surrounding fast fashion. Liz Ricketts, a member of a non-profit organization called The Or Foundation explains how the high demand for fast fashion often leaves unwanted clothes in the hands of citizens in developing countries like Ghana (where ‘Obruni Wawu’ or the dead white man’s clothes are left). The fast fashion waste can also end up in oceans due to the many microplastics and non-biodegradable textiles used in the process of making it. While the trendy clothes can be cheap, the state of the environment and the lack of proper treatment for workers make this project's cost astronomical.

Fast fashion landfill by Medium

Orner also uncovers the truth of Brandy’s “Made in Italy” tags on all their clothing, a deceptive way of creating the illusion that their pieces are high-quality and expensive. The Mayor of Prato, Matteo Biffoni discusses this misconception by explaining that Prato, Italy is very well-known for its textile production and sweatshop exploitation of immigrants who work in the factories. This, as he explained, is what makes the clothes cheap in price and quality, but meets the guideline to be advertised as made in a luxurious foreign country.

While Brandy Melville has been coasting under the radar with their toxic work environment, unethical hiring standards and contribution to fast fashion, Director Eva Orner and the supporting cast of “Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion” bring all of these secrets to light. Overall, this documentary was a fascinating, horrifying and enlightening way of conquering many issues within the fast fashion industry.

As for an audience perspective, this film challenges viewers to question their own contribution to the fast fashion industry and their support of Brandy Melville. It also sheds light on the dark side of cult-like clothing industries that use young girls and their desperate need to fit in as a way to build a wealthy empire. Overall, this documentary did a fantastic job of not only exposing Brandy’s toxic CEO but also bringing awareness to a more overarching issue. This may end Brandy Melville altogether, but you may be better off taking in this documentary for yourself. 

“Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion” is currently streaming on Max, Hulu and Prime Video.


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