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Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Goldstein’

Surprise! Zara, The Brand That Brought You Swastika-Stamped Handbags, Faces $40 Million Anti-Semitism Lawsuit

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Jessica_GoldsteinZara, the fast-fashion retailer that brought you a children’s t-shirt that looks like a concentration camp uniform and a handbag decorated with swastikas, is facing a $40 million discrimination lawsuit. Three employees are alleging nine causes of action: according to Women’s Wear Daily, the lawsuit makes “claims on racial discrimination, in particular anti-Semitism. It is also alleging pay discrimination and retaliation.”

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Zara’s former general counsel, Ian Jack Miller, and lists the U.S. country manager, and Zara USA’s director of expansion for North and South American, Moises Costas Rodriguez, as the other defendants. Miller started working at Zara in January 2008 and was fired in March of this year.

Miller is Jewish and alleges the discrimination he experienced was particularly harsh as a result. Though upper management didn’t know about Miller’s faith until he’d been at Zara for five years, they routinely called Jewish landlords and real estate developers with whom they worked “los judios” (Spanish for “the Jews”), whined that it was trying to work with “those people,” and generally mocked them. Once Miller’s religion came to light, he found himself cut out of crucial meetings and email chains; his annual pay raises were cut from over 15 percent to three percent.

Miller alleges that employees are favored if they are “straight, Spanish and Christian.” Spanish employees allegedly enjoyed greater job security and higher pay raises, he claims. He also alleges that he was fired the day after his legal counsel sent a letter to Zara detailing his complaints.

From Fashionista:

The lawsuits claims are specific, lewd and no doubt embarrassing to many current and former employees. The lawsuit describes a corporate culture where visits to prostitutes are a normal part of business trips and a heterosexual lifestyle is endorsed. Miller says that former Zara USA CEO Moises Costas Rodriguez bragged about the size of his penis and having sexual relations with five female subordinates, including a director of human resources, and that he sent an email to Miller highlighting language that marriage is an institution “sanctified between a man and a woman.” The suit claims that another Zara executive, Francesc Fernandez Claramunt, sent Miller’s partner, Michael Mayberry, a pornographic image of an erect and tattooed penis and that Fernandez had been trying to persuade Miller to get such a tattoo.

It wasn’t just Miller who was the alleged target of Zara’s prejudice: emails that regularly circulated among senior management reportedly contained pictures of Michelle and Barack Obama, the former serving fried chicken, the latter on an Aunt Jemima box shining shoes and in a Ku Klux Klan hood holding a Confederate flag.

 

In response to the lawsuit, a Zara representative told WWD, “We do not tolerate any behavior that is discriminatory or disrespectful, but value each individual’s contributions to our dynamic organization.”

 

Revelations like this are always a bit shocking, not because it’s so stunning that someone could still harbor such antiquated prejudices in a modern time, but really that someone could be stupid enough to document them in a work email. As no one at Zara would be encouraged to say, dayenu.

 

And yet, for the consumer paying attention to Zara’s practices — and really, the practices of all these fast fashion retailers — there is no real reason to be taken aback by this news. This is a store that not only has stocked its shelves with easily identifiable signifiers of the Holocaust (twice!) but has also shilled blackface necklaces.

So Zara’s corporate culture shouldn’t be all that shocking, just like there is nothing particularly jaw-dropping about Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyor of all things white, blonde and preppy, would be found guilty of religious discrimination against a potential employee who wore a hijab at her job interview; just like there is nothing especially mind-blowing about Urban Outfitters, which navigates cultural landmines with all the grace of a drunk hipster, would sell a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” that appears to be splattered with blood. We’ve reached a point where shopping at any of these places is, at best, a passive acceptance of the values they openly, eagerly uphold.

 

Still, would-be responsible shoppers are in a bind: it is practically impossible to know that you’re buying clothing that is not only inoffensive on its face (can’t really say enough times how easy it is to make sure Nazi regalia isn’t all over your fine fake-leather goods) but ethical in its supply chain. Stores like Forever 21, H&M and Topshop keep prices low by exploiting and endangering the lives of impoverished people, mostly women, in developing countries. Even Patagonia, probably the most high-profile advocate in the retail space for fair labor practices, can’t weed human trafficking out of its factories.

One more thing to consider: Zara founder Armancio Ortega is the second-richest man on Earth. He has a net work of $71.5 billion.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jessica Goldstein. Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress. She also writes recaps for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture blog. Before coming to ThinkProgress, Jessica was a feature writer and theater columnist at the Washington Post. Jessica holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, she wrote for Seventeen and Her Campus. Jessica is originally from New Jersey.

Abercrombie Lost A Supreme Court Case. Could They Win A Retail War?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Jessica_GoldsteinLast fall, Samantha Elauf, a young Muslim who was denied employment at Abercrombie and Fitch because her headscarf violated the company’s dress code, took her case all the way to the Supreme Court. On Monday, SCOTUS ruled against Abercrombie, 8-1, declaring that A&F’s refusal to accommodate a hijab-wearing applicant was a violation of civil rights law.

Elauf didn’t know about Abercrombie’s policy against headscarves; the Supreme Court needed to determine if it was Elauf’s responsibility to inquire for an accommodation or if the burden was on Abercrombie to provide an accommodation without waiting for Elauf to ask. The final call: it was on Abercrombie to provide for Elauf, not the other way around, and failing to do so constituted religious discrimination.

In a statement, Abercrombie said the case will go on and pointed out that the justices did not specifically say discrimination had occured: “We will determine our next steps in the litigation.”

So Abercrombie lost a battle. But could this loss help the chain win a retail war? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time Abercrombie rebounded from irrelevance.

As we noted on this site last year, the “cool” look once exemplified by Abercrombie’s preppy offerings and its blonde, white and athletic aesthetic is no longer cool among young shoppers. At its modern peak (which is to say, the second era of Abercrombie, after then-CEO Mike Jeffries revived the long-dormant brand in 1992), Abercrombie was raking in almost $2 billion in annual sales, with 22,000 conventionally hot employees populating 700 stores. Abercrombie thrived on a narrow definition of beauty.

As Jeffries put it in a now-infamous interview with Salon in 2006, “We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that… In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends… Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Repulsive as this modus operandi may be, there was a time, not too long ago, when it was smart marketing: when everyone was watching The O.C., when Mean Girls in their nearly-identical pink-on-Wednesdays attire reigned supreme, when sameness was the order of the day.

But 2006, in fashion years, is ancient history. Today’s teenagers are drawn to the cheap, trendy stuff on the shelves of H&M, Forever 21, and Zara (though the human cost of such inexpensive, wear-it-then-toss-it clothes is devastatingly high). Looking like everyone else is so five years ago. And Abercrombie’s idea of utopia as, basically, an Aryan, Logan’s Run-like game of touch football that never ends doesn’t jive with the taste of the most racially diverse generation in history.

 

Sales at A&F have been on the decline for years; stores have been shuttering across the nation. So before Elauf’s case was decided, Abercrombie was in the midst of some soul-searching. (Assuming corporations are people, why can’t brands have souls?) They killed the logo. They brought light into the stores and black clothing to the shelves. The nausea-inducing amounts of perfume amid the racks was taken down by a quarter. A&F even tried to go in a hipster direction; this did not sit well with the preppy populace, Abercrombie’s core demographic. Besides, these are not the kind of seismic changes that rescue a dying brand.

Maybe, just maybe, this SCOTUS case will be a watershed moment for Abercrombie. Not only is their old mode of cool no longer cool; it is so uncool that it’s literally unconstitutional. Imagine a brave new Abercrombie where the employees — ahem, “brand representatives” — actually represent a huge swath of America’s teenage population. Imagine it being totally ordinary to stroll into an A&F at the mall and be greeted by a girl in a hijab and a guy in a yarmulke.

Or maybe Abercrombie will continue its speedy, steady fall from power. But if you happen to be personally invested in the resurgence of Abercrombie as a cultural force, consider this SCOTUS ruling cause for cautious optimism.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jessica Goldstein. Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress. She also writes recaps for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture blog. Before coming to ThinkProgress, Jessica was a feature writer and theater columnist at the Washington Post. Jessica holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, she wrote for Seventeen and Her Campus. Jessica is originally from New Jersey.

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