A group of anonymous former Glossier employees have banded together to call out the cosmetics and skincare company for what they say are long-standing racial and managerial issues, which Glossier has vowed to address.
They've called themselves "Outta the Gloss," and released an open letter last week calling for change. Even though the coronavirus pandemic has led to mass layoffs at Glossier's flagship store in New York City, meaning many in the group lost their jobs, those involved are still pushing to have their demands met.
"I’ve seen people go through terrible things and gone through terrible things myself and nobody deserves that," one former employee, JG, told BuzzFeed News. "Your workplace is supposed to be safe."
Glossier has responded to the concerns outlined in the open letter with a blog post from the company's founder and CEO, Emily Weiss. In it, Weiss vows to make changes.
"We know we have a heightened responsibility—changing how the world sees beauty starts with change and accountability within our own organization," she wrote in part.
JG worked is one of three former Glossier employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News on the condition that they be identified only by their initials for fear of retribution in the industry.
JG started as an editor (Glossier lingo for customer service professionals who work on the sales floor) in October 2018. She said that as a Black employee, she felt she was treated differently both by customers and by management.
She said, for example, that customers would sometimes grab her, but when she told management, she claims they dismissed it. But when it happened to a white employee, she said they took it more seriously.
"A manager told me to just go sit upstairs for 30 minutes and come back when I said I felt unsafe and was uncomfortable," she said. "I’ve had customers try to touch my hair or say really uncomfortable things, like 'I’m a chocolate soul in a white body.'"
As a lighter-skinned Black person, she said this allegedly dismissive attitude was even worse for darker-skinned employees. These were issues employees would bring up and talk about among themselves, JG said, but they were never addressed in a communal setting.
Another issue alleged in the open letter is that management would go to great lengths to keep customers happy, at the expense of employees. JG said that meant customers could yell at her and still be given free products to placate them.
CP, who also worked with customers, told BuzzFeed News this was very apparent one day when a group of young girls came in and starting applying dark foundation in what the open letter described as "gleeful blackface."
"The people in question were told to stop but in a way that was not even a slap on the wrist, just an overly polite and subservient tone rather than an expression of solidarity with Black staff members who were uncomfortable and felt unsafe," they said. "This kind of the 'customer is always right’ approach when it comes to racism in the workplace doesn’t work in this regard."
CP, who is white, said they also heard of a manager who would consistently mix up the names of Black employees, which the open letter said was the subject of "countless complaints."
"Most of the Black staff in the store have experienced some kind of racism whether from management or from a customer who was being racist," they said.
In it, former employees say Glossier's pink-hued millennial and inclusive branding was not mirrored in the way it treated employees. That became especially important, they said, after Glossier committed to a grant for Black-owned beauty businesses amid the Black Lives Matter protests.
"On most occasions, we editors had come to expect no intervention and little recourse — not even reassurance of our safety," the letter from Outta the Gloss says. "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."
JG said that employee complaints were not followed up on prior to the open letter and employees who did complain were treated as problems. MC said those issues continued where customers couldn't see. She worked on the flagship location's third floor, where customer purchases were put together and sent down to the storefront.
"I think something that was a constant issue with working back of house was feeling neglected. We were off the floor so we were doing behind-the-scenes stuff so it felt like we were less of a priority," she said.
During the holiday rush, for example, she said, there would only be herself and two other employees packing hundreds of orders. She claims management would only send backup if customers complained.
"This just goes along with the theme of managers always putting the customers first regardless of employees' well-being," she said.
Former employees also took issue with Glossier's shade range. With only 12 skin tones sold, they said darker-skinned customers were often unable to find shades that worked for them. JG said sometimes she had to mix two shades together.
"I would honestly often comp people a second shade or comp people a second product to try and alleviate a bit of that negative feeling," she said.
MC and CP were both laid off in June after Glossier furloughed its storefront employees due to COVID-19. Still, they said they want to push for change.
Outta the Gloss included a list of demands for Glossier, including an open Zoom call to address racism, on-site HR support, and ongoing anti-racism training.
As part of Glossier's response to the open letter, Weiss shared an email to employees that included promises to create clearer career paths and a customer code of conduct.
"Going forward, we must ensure that the needs of our internal community are met with equal energy and passion as we build an equitable, inclusive and growth-oriented retail employee experience," Weiss wrote. "We are grateful to everyone who has come forward for giving us the opportunity to listen, learn, and improve."
Glossier also outlined a plan of action on social media. When reached for comment, Glossier directed BuzzFeed News to its public posts and added that former employees were emailed on Aug. 17 with the company's action plan.
The company also apologized.
"Through many hours of Zoom calls, an investigation this summer, and most recently, through @OuttaTheGloss, we’ve heard accounts of the myriad ways the systems and culture we’d developed failed to create the inclusive, safe environment they deserved," the post says.
“This post, to start, is an apology and a public acknowledgment of the pain and discomfort these former colleagues experienced while working to build a brand they believed so deeply in upon arrival. We’re so sorry that we didn’t create a workplace in which our retail employees felt supported in the most critical ways."
JG said she's glad to see a response, but added the proof will be in the pudding. With retail operations currently closed, the real test will be when stores reopen and employees are rehired.
As for her, she won't be coming back.
"There’d need to be a major change within the culture for me to want to apply," she said.
Correction: A previous version of this article used incorrect pronouns for a source.