Hey, what’s up? How’s it going? Can I help you find anything? I can’t tell you how many times I said those three phrases in the past three months. I got my first retail job this summer, which would’ve been really cool and fun, had it not been at a place I like to call Club Exclusive. Club Exclusive’s brand is so widely popular today that if you don’t recognize their little seagull logo that appears on almost all of their products, you most definitely have been living under a rock.
Anyways, the hiring process was simple enough: I was approached in the store and asked to apply. Two days later, I showed up for the group interview dressed in their clothes, answered a few simple questions, and voilà, the job was mine. I had heard rumors of what it was like to work there, and knew of the company’s shallow reputation through my friends and my own experiences shopping there. I ignored all of that, though, just because I needed the extra cash, and who wouldn’t want to get paid to stand around and look pretty?
Although that was basically what the job entailed, it was more than that. On my very first day of work, I showed up wearing a simple navy shirt and plain dark jeans that had no visible logo. They hadn’t told me in the interview what the dress code was; in fact, when someone asked if employees were required to wear the company’s clothes, the store manager responded that they were not. So, I assumed what I had on would be good enough. It was not, apparently, because the very first thing they made me do when I showed up for my shift was buy an entire new outfit from the store. They have a guidebook of certain trends and clothes that are acceptable for their employees to wear to work, and it is at the liberty of the employee to choose what they want to buy. Employees also get a 50 percent discount on all clothing items from this guidebook. That being said, I still ended up spending $70 on my new outfit for work, which consisted of a pair of jeans, a flimsy tank top that could very well have been made from tissue paper and flip flops. $70. That was after the 50 percent discount was applied. Talk about throwing away a paycheck, right? Anyways, later that day I began training with one of the other “models.” Our task? Folding clothes. Except, it wasn’t as simple as just folding clothes like you do at home and stacking them nicely. We had to fold clothes PERFECTLY and then stack them in PERFECTLY straight piles. The girl who was training me told me perhaps the most memorable description I’ve ever gotten from a job: “We aren’t so much about customer service here. It’s more about looking good, and making the store look good, so customers will buy our clothes.”
I spent the next two months nailing the art of folding clothes down to a science, and observing the type of people who came in to shop at Club Exclusive. I observed hundreds of preteen and teenage girls with their little friends dragging their less-than-willing mothers into the store to try on clothes and spend stupid amounts of money on average quality jeans and skimpy shorts and shirts, and I couldn’t help but ask: why? Why are high school kids and even young adults so obsessed with this brand? It’s because of the genius of the company’s marketing strategy. They created this idea of an exclusive store where only the attractive, cool kids shop by hiring “models” to work and display the Cali look that any teenage girl wants to have. They only sell clothes to fit a certain body type and they plaster posters of half naked guys and girls around the store to make customers think they can have that, they can be that, if they just buy their clothes. There is this standard of beauty and physical attraction that society has come to accept and moreover desire and almost worship. Club Exclusive plays into this desire by marketing their clothes to convince young boys and girls that they can be as beautiful as the photoshopped models in the advertisements if they shop at the store.
The saddest part is that I already knew all of this before I started working there. It is unbelievably easy to get sucked into this culture where quality of life is all about how you look and how you dress and what size your jeans are. This trend will continue as long as Club Exclusive maintains their reputation as the “cool kids” store. Fortunately, by the time they graduate high school, most people realize what a joke the company is, and how badly it exploits both its employees and its customers. However, for those of you who are absurdly naive like me and don’t look into the real ideas behind retail marketing, consider this your wake up call. The problem will not fix itself; it requires us as consumers to recognize these exploitive tactics and refuse to buy into them.