A toxic work culture, censored risqué advertising and a court battle with a billionaire investor. The limelight isn’t unusual for retailer Honey Birdette.
A toxic work culture, censored risqué advertising and a court battle with a billionaire investor. The limelight isn’t unusual for retailer Honey Birdette.

Lingerie staffer on how her ‘dream job’ turned ‘nasty’

When Rebecca* started working at lingerie retailer Honey Birdette, she thought she had landed her dream job.

The opportunity to work for a daring and "cutting edge" brand known for pushing the boundaries with explicit advertorial content excited her.

But that thrill quickly eviscerated when she was confronted by the "nasty" work environment which she claimed pitted staff members against one another, leaning heavily on a culture of fear as a source of motivation.

"It's a feeling of being constantly on edge," Rebecca, who requested her real name remain anonymous, told news.com.au.

"Almost everyone has had their job threatened and it doesn't happen in private, it happens in office meetings.

"The area managers and retail managers get screamed at about the sales and they are told that they are lucky to have a job at Honey Birdette and can be easily replaced by someone better."

She said the gaslighting included verbal abuse, and that she was told she was "useless" and was often yelled at if she didn't wear high heels, all of which Honey Birdette emphatically denies.

Rebecca, who worked within the company's audacious marketing team for about five years, said the treatment left her feeling "on edge and filled with anxiety".

She claimed she lost sleep, her relationship suffered and she feared going to work.

"I loved my job but I just didn't know what to expect when I walked through the door," she said. "For my mental health I eventually had to go."

Honey Birdette is known for using controversial advertising material.
Honey Birdette is known for using controversial advertising material.

The former employee, who has not lodged a formal complaint against the company, said workers were too afraid to speak up after a senior staff member was made redundant shortly after she complained to upper management about the behaviour.

Honey Birdette denies this and every other claim made by the former employee, which a company spokesperson described as "extremely offensive and demonstrably untrue".

"There are no names attached to the content making slanderous attacks on our business," the company said in a statement to news.com.au.

The revelations are the latest in a long list of controversies to fall upon the retail chain, which has dealt with various complaints for explicit promotional images, accusations of a bullying work culture and a current legal dispute in the Brisbane Supreme Court.

In 2016, former employee Chanelle Rogers said when she complained to a manager about a customer detailing a rape scene while she was alone in the store, she was told to "turn the music up and get on with the day and don't let it affect my sales".

The woman launched a petition slamming Honey Birdette for an alleged bullying culture, which was endorsed by other women claiming to also be former employees.

Ms Rogers revealed seeing "women mocked for daring to apply for a job at Honey Birdette".

"I saw workers humiliated and threatened by management because they weren't wearing perfectly applied lipstick all day, their heels weren't high enough, and because they didn't 'talk the way a Honey should talk'."

CENSORED AD CAMPAIGNS

The lingerie retailer is no stranger to advertising regulators.

In February, Honey Birdette was forced to censor a promotional image featuring co-founder Eloise Monaghan and her wife Natalie released to coincide with Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The image was ruled by Ad Standards, the organisation that self regulates the Australian advertising industry, as too explicit because it featured female nipples.

This ad was banned after the advertising regulatory group received complaints.
This ad was banned after the advertising regulatory group received complaints.

 

In 2017, the above image was also banned for use as a digital billboard at the chain's stores across the country after the regulatory body received complaints.

Collective Shout, an advocacy group against the objectification of women, has published posts criticising the exposure of the content to young shoppers.

One complaint was from an "appalled mother" who said she was walking through a shopping centre with her four-year-old son when she saw an inappropriate image in the store window.

"I have to go towards it and past it to get to the Kmart, essentially," she said. "Their current campaign is for white lacy teddies/negligees and in the full-size posters, there are nipples clearly visible."

LEGAL BATTLE

A dispute between former managing director and co-founder Janelle Barboza and rich-lister Brett Blundy kicked off in the Brisbane Supreme Court last week.

Ms Barboza is suing Mr Blundy of BB Retail Capital, the company's former owner Bras N Things and Honey Birdette, claiming she was ripped off when she was bought out of the business.

The co-founder fell out with the company in 2014 when she was told by businessman Ray Itaoui that Bras N Things had chosen to exercise its right to buy her out of Honey Birdette after a breakdown between Ms Barboza and Ms Monaghan, the court heard according to The Courier Mail.

"I was shocked at this news, I asked him why and he said because you can't work with her (Ms Monaghan)," she said.

Ms Barboza is claiming she was bought out for a figure less than she had expected from forecasts but was told she would be invited to invest in the company's expansion into the United Kingdom.

But when this growth plan fell through, she demanded a greater redundancy package and claims Mr Itaoui responded to this request with threats, according to the court coverage from Brisbane.

"He replied: 'Well if you want a redundancy, then the UK is off the table'."

Ms Barboza is suing for more than $1 million.

- Additional reporting from Alexis Carey

 

If you have something to add or have suffered due to a toxic work environment and want to share your story, please get in touch via email at james.hall1@news.com.au or through Twitter at @James_P_Hall.

 

Originally published as From 'dream job' to 'nasty' abuse

The company started in Brisbane.
The company started in Brisbane.

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