Can fashion stores demand that their employees buy clothes?

Want to read in Dutch? Click here

When you walk into a clothing store, the staff often wears the latest collection. That’s not surprising, as it encourages customers to buy clothes more quickly. But sometimes, the staff also has to buy the clothes they wear during work. That can add up to quite a cost. Can fashion stores demand that their employees buy clothes? I looked into it…

Can fashion stores demand that their employees buy clothes?
Photo: Viktor Talashuk – Unsplash

Different clothes every day

Australian unions are discussing this issue. An article published by 7News at the end of October 2022 referred to the mandatory purchase of clothing as wage theft.

It immediately reminded me of the time when I worked at fashion store Didi. This retail chain, which went bankrupt in 2020, sold women’s clothing. As staff in the store, we had to wear this clothing too. At the end of the day, we hung the clothes on a rack, and the next day they were steamed. After steaming, the clothes went back into the store. That’s why we didn’t have to buy the clothes. This wouldn’t have been possible anyway, as Didi had strict requirements for the clothing worn by the staff.

For instance, we were obliged to create a different outfit every day. So, you couldn’t wear the same thing for a few days in a row. The clothing you wore had to be from the latest collection and be combined with accessories from the store. Sometimes, we were forced to wear a specific piece of clothing because it needed extra promotion.


Risks of clothing steaming

It sounds like a good system, but there were also some drawbacks. Customers weren’t supposed to know that the clothes being worn were then resold. Many people didn’t find that hygienic. And some customers didn’t want to buy clothes that had already been worn. They were paying for something new, so it had to be genuinely new.

Additionally, as a staff member, you always ran the risk of the clothes getting dirty. For example, you could spill food or drink during your lunch break. As a result, the clothes had to be washed. Sometimes, stains appeared that wouldn’t come out, and the clothes had to be thrown away. The same thing happened with strong perspiration odors. If someone perspired quickly or had a strong odor, it was a problem every time.

With the above story in mind, I can understand why employees wear their own set of clothes. It saves a lot of hassle. Plus, it’s fairer to the customers. When they buy something, they know for sure that it’s genuinely new.


Is buying clothes the solution?

Unfortunately, there are retail chains that obligate their staff to buy the clothes they wear themselves. They often get a small discount, but it can still become a significant expense. A study conducted by the University of Sydney in 2017 found that employees spend thousands of dollars on these clothes. Between $105 and $1150 is paid out of pocket per outfit.

Musician Peta Mai recently shared her experiences with Kookai on TikTok. During her studies, she worked as a saleswoman in one of their stores. The Australian fashion brand obligated its staff to buy and wear the latest clothes during work. Mai once bought a $250 dress that sold out within a day. Since the dress was no longer in the store, she was no longer allowed to wear it. So, she had to buy a new outfit again.

@petamai #stitch with @Adelle Petropoulos ♬ Roxanne – Instrumental – Califa Azul

According to a spokesperson for Kookai, employees are encouraged to wear the brand’s clothing when they are in the store. But it doesn’t have to be from the latest collection.

“We offer a generous staff discount, clothing allowances (including welcome vouchers for new employees), and incentives to help our team buy our clothes. We have a clear policy stating that wearing our clothing and accessories is optional and encouraged, but not mandatory,” said the spokesperson to 7News.

Josh Cullinan, secretary of the Australian Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union, says this is a broader issue. Besides Kookai, there are more clothing stores working in this way. “Sometimes, employees receive credits or discounts, but none of them come close to covering the costs for what is mainly an uncertain, flexible job with a minimum wage,” said Cullinan.


Also a costly matter for fashion stores

This approach is not limited to Australian borders. In the Netherlands too, there are fashion stores where staff is obliged to buy clothing. This is not only expensive for the staff but can also become a cost for the employer.

In 2014, the owner of a Dutch clothing store made headlines because she filed a lawsuit. She obligated her staff to buy an outfit of €125 every month. Since it wasn’t company clothing, as the staff could also wear the clothing outside the store, she received a bill from the Tax Authorities. She had to pay an extra €170,000 in wage tax for the period of one year. The Supreme Court ruled against the woman.


Can fashion stores demand that their employees buy clothes?

This lawsuit sparked debate on the internet. Many people wondered whether fashion stores can demand that their employees buy clothes. According to Pieter van den Brink, lawyer and co-founder of the Dutch Association of Labor Law Lawyers, it is generally not allowed. But there are exceptions to this rule.

“What is possible is that the retailer pays more than the collective labor agreement wage and that it is then agreed in the employment contract that, in return, you buy new clothes every month. In that case, it is up to you as an applicant whether you agree to that,” said Van den Brink.

FNV negotiator Ron Peters has heard the complaint before. According to him, it is difficult to estimate how often this happens because many employees remain silent.


Freedom is not a carte blanche

Many people will be inclined to shrug their shoulders. Because if you don’t agree with your employer’s policy, you can just go work somewhere else, right? The store has the freedom to set its own rules. Although I understand the mindset, I don’t think this is a free pass for employers to just set all kinds of rules.

We are currently living in a time when there are many jobs available, so you can easily find a new employer. But if that’s not the case, or if for some reason you keep losing out to your competitors in job applications, it becomes a bit more difficult. Then you can’t just switch bosses. That’s why it’s important to create a uniform policy for all clothing stores. Because I really don’t think this form of wage theft is acceptable.

How do you view this?



Geef een reactie

Het e-mailadres wordt niet gepubliceerd. Vereiste velden zijn gemarkeerd met *

CommentLuv badge