Working in fashion retail isn’t as glamorous as you think, especially when starting at the bottom. Think being given pizza parties instead of pay rises or drowning in extra responsibilities without acknowledgment because “it’s good for your development.”
In the age of social media transparency, meme accounts have emerged to reveal the good, bad and ugly of retail life for current and former industry workers to laugh (or cry) over together, while outsiders read in disbelieve the kind of stuff that goes down.
Inspired by our recent podcast with the anonymous creator of ThisMerchLife, we asked our team to spill the tea on the everyday moments of their previous retail careers that make them thankful they now work at EDITED.
First off, everything is prioritized as urgent
“The assistants would have fire drills sprung on them – a panic project where you had to drop everything you’re doing and work on this instead. We’d spend hours on certain projects due by the end of the day, but no one would ever follow up – all that work for no purpose.”
You’ll do lots of menial tasks. Over and over again”
“At the end of each season, we’d put up all the samples in a showroom curated by delivery date with a different theme to walk all the buyers through what we were thinking. We dreaded doing this because you’d spend a day putting up every single piece of clothing, fabric swatch and color palette you had, then the SVP of Merchandising would make us take it down and put it back up again because they didn’t like how it looked. This happened every single season.”
Working late is expected. Actually, enforced. And forget overtime
“It was common for a Buyer to mention they worked so late they crashed at their desks. They’d just wear samples in the morning for a fresh change of clothes and keep on working.”
Oh and you’ve got to be in early too
“Every Monday was trade meetings. The assistants had to print 200-page reports, so we’d often have to be in by 7 am.”
“There was only one printer per floor, so you’d have to be in at the crack of dawn every Monday to fight all the other assistants to print the trade reports. It was everyone for themselves – if you left the queue for the printer even to use the bathroom, you’d be banished to the back of the line again. The printers were so old and overused they would constantly jam or run out of ink.”
You’ll be sent home if you’re not dressed “on brand”
“I never met my employer in person until I had the job. They told me they wouldn’t have hired me if they’d seen me before as I wasn’t dressed on brand.”
“We’d be sent home if we wore the wrong color or for wearing colorful nail polish.”
You’ll question your fashion degree when all you do is admin
“I excitedly turned up to my first design job out of uni, only to learn with disappointment that the only “designing” I’d actually be doing was photocopying bought garments and sending the spec off to China.”
Decisions change constantly
“We had a new Merch Director who decided that all price tickets should be .99 instead of round numbers. We pushed suppliers hard to get everything changed for free only to have the director change their mind again the following week”.
At least you get to travel, right? That must be fun…
“When you start out, you’re often taken along on what sounds like an exciting international buying trip, but you’re actually there to remove labels and tags and package up all the garments to be sent back to the office.”
Samples will get destroyed or go missing
“Containers with our bestselling shoes got water in them and had to be written off as they were all moldy and smelly.”
“Samples would come back from press after being worn in a campaign or an event covered in fake tan, which we would need to scrub off. Or sometimes they’d return one shoe at a time instead of pairs.”
They must be displayed correctly
“We were having a clear-out of the office, and one of the warehouse men accidentally chucked out our “wooden branded” hangers. In buying, these are the holy grail of sign-off – to make sure the samples looked their best, and for some reason, department heads can’t possibly understand what the clothes would have looked like on without them. Consequently, all admins had to climb into the dumpster to retrieve these wooden hangers back while the Buyers hung out the office window directing us to where they could see them.”
Sometimes, you’ll get the wrong sample altogether
“One time, my colleague who worked on kitchen products was waiting for a delivery of some pots and pans. They arrived in a milk churn with a lid that we couldn’t get off, which was odd. We asked the post room to collect the heavy churn and take it up to photography. My vegan colleague then checked the delivery note and realized the courier had given us the wrong sample. She had a vat of cow semen on her desk while some farm received the pots and pans.”
And chaos reigns in sample sales
“My work placement for a fashion brand was at this dingy office in a car park. During a sample sale, a woman put her baby on the floor in a pile of clothes while she tried things on and it nearly got stepped on, the poor thing”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Though each company varies, retail culture can often be problematic and discriminatory where people’s well-being isn’t always prioritized. EDITED knows retail and is proud to be an equal opportunity employer dedicated to pursuing and hiring a diverse workforce. For a positive change of pace, see the jobs available here.
*Stories edited for length and clarity.