It is not easy being a mall these days, nor is it easy being a mall store. And it certainly is not easy being a mall store employee with the low pay and lack of benefits that are trademarks of working in retail. Wet Seal, once a symbol of “mall rat” culture, is the latest clothing company to struggle with a shift in consumer shopping trends.
Unfortunately, like other struggling retail chains, Wet Seal is not managing its demise with much grace. After a long court battle, the tween and young women’s clothing company settled a multimillion dollar lawsuit alleging it discriminated against black employees for not fitting the company’s “brand image.” California employees also sued the company over policies such as being forced to purchase Wet Seal clothes and not being reimbursed for travel between locations.
Then there are the mounting financial problems: Wet Seal has lost over $150 million in the past two years, and it recently defaulted on a private placement deal to the tune of $28 million. As the company prepares to close as many as 60 stores by the end of the month, its CFO scored a $95,000 raise.
Many Wet Seal employees, however, will not get a raise — but layoffs and pink slips instead. And the anger is summed up best at a Seattle mall, where employees put up a sign airing their grievances. Among the many reasons why employees are angry include unpaid vacation and sick time; a one-day notice that their jobs were disappearing (pretty typical in most sectors, sadly); no offers to transfer to another store; and long job histories marked by almost no wage increases.
Companies bleeding money often take the most desperate of tactics, and this is true of Wet Seal. Unfortunately, receiving a notice that advises “of a decision that will affect you” (did someone really learn this in human resources school?) — with the order to destroy it once read — comes across as heartless. Employees and their allies are responding in kind with a fury on social media. Hashtags including #ForgetWetSeal, #BoycottWetSeal and the pointed but disturbing #ClubWetSeal are making the rounds on Twitter. Meanwhile more signs are appearing in Wet Seal storefronts, causing the California-based chain more PR headaches, though it is unlikely the company will change its approach towards its employees anytime soon.
Image credit: Imgur
Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com.