Modern-Day Exposé: Glossier’s Racism Controversy and What it Teaches Us About the Role of Social Media

On the 14th of August 2020, a brand new Twitter account, Instagram account and blog site posted for the first time (simultaneously), with seemingly no warning. Despite the accounts and site having no prior following, their first posts saw over 26,000 ‘likes’ across all platforms and their following grew from 0 to over 13,000 followers, in less than 3 months…Outta The Gloss certainly knew how to make an entrance.

In our age of social media, with an ever-growing internet population, where viral videos can stem from accounts with little following, perhaps this may not register as impressive upon a first glace. But let us look a little closer at Outta The Gloss and their content.

What exactly was the post which caused such a stir and gained instant attention? Outta The Gloss have dubbed it ‘To Glossier: A Call for Accountability and Necessary Change’. I would like to take this time to encourage you to read this for yourself; any paraphrasing attempts, no matter how successful, will never compare to the original. You can read the open letter in full here.

Its title was pretty self-explanatory: Outta The Gloss was addressing the cult-beauty brand Glossier and asking them to take accountability and facilitate change. In short, the open letter detailed numerous accounts of ‘offline editors’ (Glossier’s title for retail workers) and their horrendous experiences working for the company. These included, and are not limited to, health and safety violations, the futility of the Human Resources department, a wage gap between white and BIPOC (black, indigenous and other people of colour) workers, as well as numerous allegations of racism shown by both customers and fellow employees. All of these, according to Outta The Gloss, were ignored by the company, with no action or apology.

This was shocking. Glossier had a previously untarnished reputation (minus a relatively small packaging issue which was quickly acknowledged and amended). I tentatively call them ‘friendly’- their Instagram feed is pretty, pink and aesthetically pleasing. It also includes women (and sometimes men) of all races. They have been commended by users for being politically outspoken against social injustice and unapologetically inclusive (despite their Perfecting Skin Tint initially only carrying five shades, and their Wowder only one). If any brand was to be called out for racism, surely it wouldn’t be the all-inclusive Glossier? The illusion was shattered.

Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of Glossier, organically built and ran a blog before she launched the beauty brand- Into the Gloss. As well as drawing a direct parallel with Glossier’s blog beginnings, Outta The Gloss’ name uses African American Vernacular English – slang used by the very people Glossier was said to be biased against. Outta The Gloss’ Instagram account, which has the most followers, attention and therefore gravity, has been posting semi-regularly since this initial post. They have detailed more and more accounts of unacceptable practices whilst working for the company (mainly stemmed in racism), but also cases of LGBTQ+ micro-aggressions. Ex-employees of the company, no longer ‘in’ with or employed by the brand, have formed together as a collective to demand justice in the form of accountability and change.

So where is social media’s place in all of this? I think it would be naïve to believe that social media is solely for users to connect with one another. Looking at how things have changed over the past decade, we can see a major transition. In 2020, social media was a huge, ever-expanding industry; unless brands were online, they quickly fell into irrelevancy. Brands such as Glossier, that are predominantly online, have a major following. For example, as of the 5th November 2020, Glossier had 2.7 million followers on Instagram.

With social media swiftly becoming a major part of our everyday lives, it’s no surprise that major movements have taken place online. The #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter and the numerous #cancelled or #______isoverparty Twitter trends, have the ability to be so wide-spread and discussed because of social media. We live in an unprecedented time. Never have we been so freely able to contact others across the world or join global movements.

Pre-internet, what could your average retail worker do when they were faced with horrors as retold by Outta The Gloss? What could your everyday person do when a company’s HR department failed them? Tell a few family members and friends, perhaps. Maybe you’d get your story in a local paper, if you were lucky. Now, as seen with Outta The Gloss, we can start with zero following and accumulate thousands of supporters and news coverage. People’s voices are being heard in a way that they never have been before.

Unfortunately, 2020 isn’t just an era of justice and accountability, but we are also living in an era where the digital world is engrossed with ‘tea’ and ‘receipts’. At the height of their popularity, Outta The Gloss not only attracted fans of Glossier, but also others outside of the brand’s following, who I can only assume were there for the drama. What’s more scandalous than a favoured beauty brand being majorly called out online?

Sadly, I believe that much of the traction and ‘hype ‘that Outta The Gloss gained has slowed down nearly three months later, leaving only their truly dedicated supporters.

Some have begun to back Glossier again (who released a statement on the 17th August with a promise to fulfil their laid-out action plan). One Instagram account @anonymousbtch69 has as their description ‘anti-outtathegloss. but with receipts 😀👋’ and has posted numerous ‘receipts’ in support of Glossier. Claiming to be an employee, the account primarily consists of getting into vicious back-and-forth arguments between an ex-Glossier employee (widely believed to be the ‘founder’ of Outta The Gloss) over old emails, Instagram posts and tweets. It also showcases screenshotted messages from other supposed employees, testifying of said ex-employee’s prior beef with Glossier. If this reminds you of secondary-school dramatics, you’re not alone.

This is not to say that this has no merit. @anonymousbtch69 has brought to our attention a vital truth that Outta The Gloss has failed to mention: numerous employees were in conversation with Weiss (yes, you read that right – retail workers were in regular contact with the CEO) back in June, and some store managers of Glossier were fired after investigation.

When you visit Outta The Gloss on Instagram, despite the majority of their comment section being overtly critical, their following remains consistent. What can we conclude from this? Have people stopped caring? Have they forgotten? Or are they waiting for more information, in the hopes that this undeniable problem (recognised as such by Weiss in her alleged emails to Glossier employees: https://www.instagram.com/p/CESgN9ZAb2r/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link  https://www.instagram.com/p/CESffVUAM-j/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link will be fully fixed and dealt with complete transparency?

Of course, we are talking about real people’s experience with discrimination and micro-aggressions. This can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to ‘tea’ or ‘pettiness’. These are serious allegations which deserve attention and resolve. The story is still unclear, despite Outta The Gloss’ call for transparency. We cannot stop others from coming forward with their opinions and experiences, even if it hurts our own cause. While social media has provided a way for the silenced to be heard and supported, it has also proven to be Outta The Gloss’ downfall over time.

 

Words By: Megan Clayton

Edited By: Tamikka Reid