Bubblegum pink meeting rooms, fluffy unicorns, free ice lollies, and high heels — the emblem of female empowerment within Manchester’s Missguided head office. The digital fashion brand has crashed onto screens in an intimate documentary from Channel 4, promoting their climb back up to the top after a huge financial crash in 2018. Through vibrant shots of modelling shoots, office parties, publicity stunts, and sample sales, the documentary focuses on the highs and lows of working for Missguided, and the perks that come with being a fast-fashion retailer.
As a mid-twenties woman with an interest in fashion, who avidly watches Love Island and regularly uses an Instagram account, I’m clearly the target audience for the show. I’m supposed to drool enviously at their luxury lifestyles and gasp in awe at their selection of Christmas party dresses. They want me to cheer when a buyer gets a great deal on a zipper, and laugh when their marketing team pulls a stunt with reality TV legend Gemma Collins. It’s a documentary designed to reclaim the traction lost through Missguided’s previous dabble with bad press and unethical practice rumours, revealing their team and their business to be progressive, moral, fun, and exciting.
It doesn’t work. Instead, the show presents four hours of young, predominantly white women led by a stern male CEO, panicking, burning out, swearing, and sacrificing their mental health for the sake of a cheap £15 dress. In one episode, they promote equality, diversity, and body positivity — in another they fat-shame an influencer’s fingers and refuse to let a model eat an apple. The contradictions continue, protecting the harmful nature of the fast-fashion industry and then scrutinising a potential supplier for the ethical running of their warehouse. It’s a propaganda effort that hasn’t quite paid off, leaving more viewers irritated and confused than empowered and shopping-ready.
But controversies aside (although Missguided’s attitude towards the nature of fast fashion will be revisited later), it truly is the office culture and management style that shocks me the most about the documentary. Managers are outwardly rude and belittling towards staff, suicide jokes are made freely throughout the office, junior members of staff are repeatedly reduced to anxiety, nausea, and tears — all under the veil of the #girlboss grind. Young idealistic women with passion and drive are being overridden by the self-proclaimed ‘bitches’, ‘bullies’, and ‘bad girls’ of the industry. Their brass voices shout the loudest and the naughtiest kids get to sit in the teacher’s chair, screaming at the rest without any visible consequence.
I’ve worked in offices like this. I’ve been the naive, idealist girl who has been told that lunch breaks are a luxury, that sleep is a myth, and that work matters more than anything else. I’ve been shot down in meetings, I’ve been so nervous I’ve stammered and I’ve seen girls cry in meeting rooms in the middle of pitches. Empowerment has no place in an office where my boss can reduce me to tears, and then force me to celebrate her gender reveal with cake, balloons, and donations from my own meager salary.
Take a look at the Glassdoor reviews for the workspaces of Missguided. Read the comments on mismanagement, nepotism, mental health, and poor communication. Look past the pink-tinted lens of the Channel 4 crew and see what’s actually happening in the Missguided office. The swing seats alone are worth more than the standard wage for their garment workers. The cost of taxis, private cars, pink wrapped Lamborghinis, and disused sample pieces are painfully ignored in the rush to get the cheapest fabrics and discounted deals from external suppliers.
I’ve yet to find a written review that actually praises the documentary. Almost every single commentary on Inside Missguided has mentioned the team’s blase attitude to the most harmful, environmentally damaging practice in the modern world, has shamed them for their inauthentic body positivity and has written them off as a crass selection of faux girl bosses, still waiting for their time in the spotlight.
So should your take away be from Inside Missguided? A fresh perspective on the unethical policies of digital fast fashion? A cruel reminder that body positivity isn’t attractive until it becomes profitable? Or the simple fact that even in 2020, female empowerment cannot be established under the thumb of a man with more money than compassion.
Buy ethical, buy clever, buy slow and don’t buy Missguided.