5 Disturbing Things About Brandy Melville From "Brandy Hellville And The Cult Of Fast Fashion"

The Brandy Melville documentary gave "Quiet on Set" vibes, with some teen employees alleging they were asked to send photos of their chest and feet to corporate.

By Nicole Dominique5 min read
HBO/Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion

I was going into this documentary thinking I’d still defend one of my favorite clothing brands. I was wrong. 

Since the 2010s, fast-fashion brand Brandy Melville has had millions of young teens in a chokehold with their tees, miniskirts, comfy intimates, and vintage pullovers. The cute name was inspired by a made-up story of an American girl named Brandy and an Englishman named Melville, who met and fell in love. They’re known for their "one-size-fits-all" approach, though their clothes usually run at XS or S. The documentary introduces us to some key people, including Stephan Marsan, the mysterious Italian CEO with no digital footprint, and his partner, a “bald man with braces” named Jesse, who ran their infamous Instagram full of skinny, white minors.

To say that Brandy Melville is a success is an understatement. According to journalist Kate Taylor, the brand's sales totaled $212.5 million in 2023 without any significant changes following the CEO’s controversial practices in 2021 that resulted in mass resignations. The retail store also grows from 20% to 25% annually. You can find countless videos – old and new – of young girls showing off their Brandy shopping haul on YouTube. The trend of trying on articles of clothing and repeating this is sooo cute! for the camera has moved on to TikTok, and the hype around the brand continues to spread. 

HBO's documentary on the company, Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion, was released this week to reveal the dark side of the popular fashion brand. At the heart of the exposé is the negative environmental impact fast-fashion brands have. The rest of it is about the company's mistreatment of employees, most of whom were minors, how their work environment bred eating disorders, the brand’s toxic exclusivity, and its disgraced CEO, Stephan Marsan.

Over the past decade, Brandy Melville has embodied an image of a blonde, white, skinny girl who looks like she could be from California. The brand became a cult fave by “edtwt,” the corner of X/Twitter inhabited by underaged anorexics. While Brandy Melville certainly has been attached to the depictions I’ve described, not everyone who shops there does it to feel a sense of superiority, as the documentary suggests. For example, I’m short (but not at all Brandy Melville thin), and I can only fit into XS/S. I also favor cotton, a material that Brandy Melville uses frequently. I can’t count how often I’ll see a piece of clothing I like only for my size to be sold out – that doesn’t happen with Brandy. 

I would hear many complaints from women about how it’s unfair that Brandy only carries small sizes. I thought it was nice that I could go to their store and not worry about a cute skirt or shirt not being an XS, and if a store wants to target a specific audience, is that so bad? Why do so many of us feel entitled to be represented by every company? Then I learned that Marsan had reasons for his business model, and it was not because he wanted to make more clothes for smaller-sized girls but because it was built on hatred and perversion. 

This is an opinion piece.

Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion Summary

Anyway, spoilers ahead! Here are some of the surprising facts about Brandy Melville.

Teens, Teens, and More Teens 

I knew Brandy focused on targeting young girls, but I had no idea how obsessed they were. The models on the website and Instagram are teenagers. Not only were the models minors, but so were the employees. The hiring process was sketchy – there were no job interviews or even postings online. Instead, there was an odd recruitment process where workers were told to take photos of Brandy-styled customers (who had to be skinny, of course) and send them to corporate. And if Marsan liked how the girls looked, he’d say, “Hire them right now.” 

Employees also had to take full-body photos when they went to work, with special directions to include their chest and feet. Marsan had a folder on his phone full of minors' photos.

If the girls' look didn’t fit the Brandy image, he’d tell the managers to fire them. Can you imagine how damaging this is to a 16 year old’s psyche? And as a parent, if a grown man requested photos of your teenage daughter’s body and feet for “work purposes,” wouldn’t you be concerned?

One employee recalled witnessing a board with a collection of these images in Marsan’s office. Mind you, Marsan was a grown man. 

It’s Giving Shein

Like many popular clothing brands today, Brandy Melville is a fast fashion company. So, as you can imagine, the clothes were cheap and not luxurious despite some being labeled as being produced in Italy. The truth is that the company employs Chinese immigrant staffers to sew its clothes in sweatshops in Prato, Italy.

Stephan Marsan = Red Flag

Stephan Marsan was smart. He started the company in Italy but understood that his brand was popular in the U.S., so he focused on marketing to American teens. He would send influencers and models boxes of clothes for free in exchange for videos (this was before TikTok, so he was ahead of the curve). 

Unfortunately, according to someone who worked with him, Marsan didn’t like black people. One black teen shared her experience working there, but she was made to work in the back. She mentioned that Marsan once gave a coworker $100 for information about a shirt she wore, which he liked. He would do this because Brandy Melville allegedly copied designs all the time. The young black girl did the same thing and gave Marsan the details on some cargo pants she wore, but she didn’t get rewarded. 

In 2021, former senior vice president Luca Rotondo alleged that Marsan told him to only hire girls who fit into his standard. Rotondo worked for nearly a decade at Brandy and said that workers would get black customers to leave before Marsan visited the store and that white people often replaced black employees. "If she was black, if she was fat…he didn’t want them in the store,” Rotondo told Insider

As I’ve mentioned, Marsan focused on hiring underaged and thin girls. Naturally, the work environment pressured the young employees to be skinny. Marsan reportedly wanted to keep the brand “exclusive” and to make it a goal for people to fit into their clothing, and I hate to say it, but it’s working. Even Edtwt uses the brand for “thinspo” to fuel their disordered eating habits. 

According to a former Brandy employee on TikTok, she remembers being told not to allow bigger-sized girls into fitting rooms. 

The teens said they were scared of Marsan, and producer Eva Orner mentioned it was hard to find women willing to discuss their experiences with Brandy Melville due to their fear. “I’ve done films in war zones with refugees, and this was the hardest film to find participants [for],” she explained. “I reached out to hundreds of young women, and a lot of them didn’t want to be a part of it. The main thing they said was that they’re scared of retribution, they’re scared of Stephan. So the young women who are in this film are the absolute heroes of this story.”

The documentary noted that Marsan was a libertarian and an alleged Ayn Rand fan who hated taxes. He had a group chat with other higher-ups that contained content reminiscent of posts on Red Pill X. They shared memes of 9/11 and Hitler, made sexual jokes, and sent each other explicit images of women. The photos of the employees were also sent to the group chat.

The Apartment

A former Brandy staffer said that the brand owned an apartment that was lent to employees. A then-teen, she was told she could stay there. She woke up one day to find another young employee sleeping on the couch and a grown man who also worked there. While there aren’t too many details about the apartment, the film discussed an employee allegedly getting spiked at a bar and sexually assaulted at the Brandy Melville-owned apartment in Manhattan.

Brandy Melville Finally Sued

In 2016, the brand faced a class action lawsuit for labor law violations, forcing employees to work "off the clock" through meals and without overtime. 4,000 California employees were to receive payouts of $200 each. According to Business Insider’s Taylor, former executives and associates of Brandy Melville filed two lawsuits against Marsan, including “serious allegations of racism.”

Despite all of these findings, Brandy Melville continues to be a success.

Closing Thoughts

Sadly, Brandy Hellville & the Cult of Fast Fashion has shifted the conversation to whether stores should target specific audiences exclusively. I agree that businesses should be free to operate as they choose, and expecting every brand to cater to everyone is unrealistic. But it seems that Red Pill X focuses solely on the demonization of Brandy Melville's "one-size-fits-all" approach, missing the larger issues shared in the documentary. It's shallow to overlook the reasons the film warns against supporting them. Some claim they'll keep shopping at Brandy to defy the left, but doing so only perpetuates the exploitation and mistreatment of young girls. Why would you want to support that?

“The level of exploitation against women is staggering,” said Orner, especially when platforms like Instagram, Tumblr, and TikTok further enable them to do so. “You are being exploited by companies and doing their work when you make videos promoting them and [don’t] get paid. There are these armies of young girls advertising for these evil companies who are just laughing all the way to the bank.” 

The solution to this problem is simple and obvious. "Just buy less," added Orner. "The consumer has all the power.”

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