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Below is the exact unaltered open letter I wrote just after 3am October 2013 hours before my last shift at A&F. Genuinely thought only my Mom and a few managers would see it but shockingly “Not Pretty Enough” ended up being seen by nearly 50k people in a very short ‘periodically’ time. A lot of folks have been asking about it in light of the new Netflix “White Hot” documentary. They told no lies. Years later it’s sad but comforting to know others experienced the same and similarly fought back in their own ways. Writing it out was my way of processing.
Enjoy and remember your journey to knowing your worth can start any time, even today.
“I don’t like bullies.” -Steve Rogers
It’s me again, the ugly pictured above.In “Part I” of my “Not Pretty Enough” series we went through how blatant displays of misconduct like hanging personal belongings over toilette bowls were punished by a “talking to” or warning. Not sure how other companies do it but it may be safe to say that someone like that would not be gainfully employed much longer after such an egregious display. Rest assured everything in “Part I” did occur and is consequently documented in Abercrombie’s HR files. They are free to release their notes on the calls that we may compare them if there is any dispute on the validity of what I wrote. Such an issue would be contrary, however to the conversation I had with the head of HR of US stores but we will go over that all in good time. I’m actually, still good friends with the manager whose keys were brandished over the toilette and she was happy her story was heard. I also, am by no means the only manager who has taken issue with this treatment. In my two years spent at Governors Square Mall; Abercrombie and Hollister have had 16 managers leave the company. I am merely the 17th. The level of incompetence in treatment of its own managers has fully staffed the management staff of both the kids and adult brands of Aeropostle, a direct competitor in the same mall. These are simply my observations during my time there and if Abercrombie decides to snap out of its state of denial, they may be able to learn from these unfortunate events and repair itself and its employees. Now, let’s start a little before we left off just before Mori (my then store manager) left the company.
The Old Abercrombie Run Around
After holding Mori accountable for calling my Venezuelan American manager recruit a Chihuahua and involving that same individuals keys where everyone used the bathroom, I guess you could say I earned the ire of my store manager. She did not want me to succeed. My first District Manager (DM) explained that in order to move from and Assistant Manager (AM) to Store Manager (SM), I had to complete all three assistant manager roles. There are manager roles that include a focus on the stock room, visual aspects of the sales floor and recruiting. In a matter of months, I completed visual role and was told by my DM that as a final testament to my accomplishments on visual (her words were that I had turned the store around visually) that I needed to train the MIT who started three weeks after my own start date. I did so happily but was soon disappointed to learn that my DM was actively searching for a store for that individual. Of course I asked why and she explained that the person I was training was willing to relocate to Panama City and other places – my DM had never asked me where I was willing to move and had never asked if I wanted a store at all. In talking with my trainee, learned that they had been planning this for months. That was an issue for me and I was not silent about it. No one could give me a straight answer as to why this was occurring. Justification for that action wasn’t reflected in the fact that I was getting recognized almost every week on our “Best of the Best” regional calls for my perfect “secret shop*” scores and recruiting accomplishments. It most definitely not reflected in my performance reviews where I was told “great job!” but to get more trackers*. I soon learned that this was in part a deliberate action by Mori. She told my trainee that she would do everything she could for her to get a store before I did. Nothing is a better testament to that effort than the fact that the trainee got the Abercrombie store upstairs (thus not relocating), not having completed all three manager roles, not having the requirement to train another manager and having less manager recruits than I was required to have.
Of course, after attempting and failing to find reason with people on a store level, HR was contacted. The representative told me not to worry about it and that I was going to get a new District Manager. We will call him Kyle. What stood out to me was the representative told me she knew Kyle, he was at Home Office getting trained at the time and that he was “a very nice guy”. Well I got a conversation with Kyle the first week. He said he didn’t know about the past but that we would all start from scratch. When I informed him of my accomplishments and having completed all the manager roles he told me that he was not required to do that. He had only done the role that concentrated on the stockroom and was able to move up from there. This was in direct contradiction of the standards of the previous DM. He informed me that the one and only determinant to get promoted was recruiting and recruiting alone. The company just needed to find me “the right store”.
Before we move on, we need to set some context. If this were a Marvel comic book; the District Managers (DM’s) that I worked with (as I can not speak on the conduct on the District Managers I did not work with) would be the character Loki. Yes. An army of Loki’s in that they are well meaning (immensely powerful) and truly believed they were doing what was best. However, it didn’t make their actions any less wrong or misguided. In 2 years I had 5 different DM’s who told me 5 different criteria on how to move up in the company and not one set of criteria was the same as the other. In a discussion with HR, the representative told me that DM’s hold the power of promotion. When I had an issue with their misconduct (like calling associates ugly) my instruction was to defer to back to the DM. So they are almost all powerful in that HR never seemed to be able to regulate their mixed up requirements or behavior. They can tell you what to wear, which models in your store they want to look at or don’t want to look at (see Part III) and there is almost nothing you can do. There is no Thor in this situation. No one is going to save the day. Thor dies – or got “Black Swaned” by Natalie Portman. You ultimately have to attempt to reason with them on your own or exact a plan of escape.
Mori left the company soon after and I was thrust into running the store with only two Managers in Training (MIT’s) to help. During that time I was the only one capable of writing the schedule, staffing the store, doing inventory and training managers (who I recruited). I did so with a smile. Things were seemingly getting better and I loved the people I was working with. They took my feedback well and coming into work started to be something I was excited about again. Kyle seemed happy with the arrangement and when I asked how I was doing, he asked me to work on getting more people in and so I did. A month into my running the store, an assistant manager was transferred to the store. Once again Kyle told me I needed to show her how to do visual tasks and scheduling. I did so. Getting to know her, I learned that she worked for the company less than half of the time I had and moved to Tallahassee for friends and family. A month after that, when asking Kyle about the status of the store as I had been running it for two months time without the title or pay of a store manager, he let me know that the Regional Manager (RM) would have to decide.
The RM Visit
I was hopefully optimistic for the RM visit but it soon became the second most appalling display I had ever witnessed. For our purposes, we will call him Gabe. Before and after Gabe, I did enjoy sane Regional Visits with polite level headed individuals but Gabe was completely out of control.
He already came down to Hollister mad and irritated because my MIT had committed a cardinal sin and expressed her dreams of going to Physical Therapy school. Gabe could not fathom why anyone would want to do anything but be a manager or model at Abercrombie and it could only be the fault of those training her that such thoughts could enter her head.
He found his first opportunity to project his frustration. Our 17 year-old front room model. She was a sweet high school girl with devastatingly disarming southern accent. He began to needle her by beckoning her to us to ask a question then sent her to do a task across the room only to summon her back shortly after. It was painful to witness. He asked her to come over to ask her name. She answered. The sent her back to work.
Gabe: What is your task?
Model: To fold these jeans and-
Gabe: What jeans specifically.
Model: The skinny jeans?
Gabe: Well go fold them.
(Model, bewildered returns to task)
Gabe: Come back here.
(She comes back to the beckoning RM)
Gabe: Who gave you this task? Did they tell you what to do.
Model: My manager told me to fold the jeans.
Gabe: You don’t have to lie for them. Did they tell you what you’re supposed to do?
Model: I’m not lying , she told me to fold these jeans.
Gabe: Go back to work.
(Model starts to go back to her task)
Gabe: Come back here. How long have you worked here.
Model: It’s my first day.
This continued a while longer. Watching Gabe getting clear enjoyment making this young girl squirm was truly disturbing. Needless to say, she went home and told her parents and soon left Hollister.
After talking with me for five minutes (interrupting any answers I tried to give to his general questions about the store) he then took the assistant manager I had been training to the back. Now, before we go over what happened the following chain of events has been acknowledged and addressed by Human Resources and confirmed by multiple accounts. They informed me that they have talked to Gabe and taken appropriate action.
Gabe asked the Assistant Manager I was tasked to train by Kyle what she thought of the store and she said it had been going well. He then asked her who she thought was going to be the store manager. She answered, “Nicole”.
Gabe responded, “Fuck Nicole.”
Gabe my Regional Manager said that with my district manager Kyle standing there to my dismayed coworker. They then told her she was just as eligible to get the store as I was and trashed me and my efforts. The problem once again was, they never took me to the side to ask what I thought or to tell me I was eligible for the store at all. That was strange because I had been running the store for two months without any indicators from Kyle that I was doing poorly. In fact I begged for performance reviews and never received one from him. Starting to notice a pattern I reported the Regional visit it to HR. These are other lessons we learned from Gabe:
- The model he harassed was pretty but could look better.
- Our store was full of hideous employees so we needed to go to every person in the mall with an Abercrombie bag and personally apologize for our models being so ugly.
- The Assistant Manager upstairs didn’t know her “ass from her elbows”.
- No one should want to do anything other than work for Abercrombie forever.
After telling HR all this and them getting the behavior confirmed by multiple manager accounts, their response was disappointing. He still works for the company now so does Kyle. The story continues soon.
*secret shop: anonymous shoppers come in and evaluate store performance from cleanliness to the attractiveness of the front room models.
*tracker: absolutely immoral and unethical. Wait for part three.