A backlash by former employees of the Wet Seal clothing store chain is playing out in store windows and in social media after the closure of multiple outlets.
"Told us NOT to look for other jobs. Said we were re-modeling and getting in new product," states one poster at a Wet Seal location in Dayton Mall in Ohio. "Took away all of our benefits including sick time and vacation which we worked for, and were told we would receive. Btw, NO SEVERANCE PAY!"
Wet Seal said last week that it had received a default notice on $27 million in debt. The company's creditor has given Wet Seal until Jan. 12 to pay what it owes.
Wet Seal was once a favorite among fashion-conscious teenagers but has fallen out of favor as its target customers flock to fast-fashion rivals such as H&M and Forever 21. The company has lost more than $150 million in the last two years. In its third quarter, Wet Seal reported a loss of $36 million, compared with a loss of $12.5 million in the same quarter a year earlier, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Wet Seal's corporate headquarters has not yet returned phone calls seeking comment on the employee protests.
Acting store manager Summer Ligon of the Chesapeake Square Wet Seal location in Chesapeake, Va., says in a phone interview Tuesday, “We’re packing up our store right now. While I was out some employees had posted those kinds of signs in the windows, but I took them down.”
Asked why she removed the signs Ms. Ligon says, “At first, out of anger, I wanted to leave them up. Then I realized it didn’t make us look good. I wanted us to look professional. I wanted to make sure my girls all got jobs in this mall and [the signs] wouldn’t help their prospects.”
Ligon has worked at Wet Seal for the past three years and was only promoted to the post of acting manager four months ago. She says that management not only gave employees no warning but actually obfuscated by telling them they were remodeling the stores.
“I saw what was happening at other stores though and when the shipments didn’t come in I guessed what was coming,” Ligion says. “They didn’t tell us until Friday that the store was closing and this Saturday would be our last day of work. Nobody has really had time to find new jobs.”
Ligon says that remaining professional and keeping her store’s morale up has been a daunting task in the face of the social media storm that is taking place on Reddit and Twitter with hashtags such as #ForgetWetSeal and #BoycottWetSeal going viral online as disgruntled employees vent their anger over losing their jobs.
“I’m angry, but at the same time I do understand the business aspect of having to close locations," Ligon says. "I just wish they [Wet Seal management] had executed it more professionally rather than blind-siding us."
Ligon concludes:“What I have to do now is deal with what is happening. Every day I wake up and tell myself I still have a job and that means I still have a job to do professionally.”
Professionally speaking, the company has set a poor industry standard. After firing a black store manager, Wet Seal faced a racial discrimination lawsuit. In December 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the company had illegally discriminated against a former store manager after one of the company’s executives complained about too many black employees at the manager’s store in Pennsylvania, The New York Times reported.
The EEOC said that Wet Seal’s “corporate managers have openly stated they wanted employees who had the ‘Armani look, were white, had blue eyes, thin and blond in order to be profitable.’ ”