Bra startup ThirdLove has built its brand around being a female-founded company where, according to its website, “every woman deserves to feel comfortable and confident.” However, it is now under fire for practices that directly contradict that business model.

Current and former ThirdLove employees spoke candidly with Vox about ThirdLove’s treatment of staff behind the brand, citing a tumultuous work environment, “surprisingly low” salaries, and a male Co-CEO who is a bullying micromanager. One former employee said,

“I would absolutely call ThirdLove’s culture toxic, and I would call it top-down toxic. New hires feel like they’re joining a movement they believe in and have a really hard experience when they realize that’s an illusion.”

thirdlove employees sexism
Photo: @thirdlove / Instagram

ThirdLove does, without question, market itself as a movement. Its image is hinged on the message that it’s a warrior of female empowerment. The organization is careful to hire women of all colors and sizes to model their bras. On the company’s Instagram, in between shots of oh-so-diverse, oh-so-confident women, you can find blandly empowering inspirational quotes displayed, like, “Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry,” and “Behind every successful woman is herself.” On the company website, ThirdLove even refers to its products as a “small revolution.”

So, it’s no wonder that employees were troubled by the about-face they encountered behind closed doors. Many cited concerns stemming from the hiring process when they were presented with low salary offers and then were refused negotiating power.

One said,

“They try to make you feel greedy.”

Another echoed,

“At a by women, for women company, I was kind of bummed out that they didn’t expect me to come in and negotiate.”

Until recently, the company offered only the California minimum of six weeks’ maternity leave and it wasn’t until mid-2018 that they even had an official HR team.

To boot, it turns out that ThirdLove isn’t even as female-driven as its marketing would imply. Employees told Vox that they were surprised to find that a male Co-CEO, David Spector, was heavily involved behind the scenes at ThirdLove despite being entirely absent from the company’s outward women-for-women branding. (The “Our Story” page on the ThirdLove website, for example, details ThirdLove’s history alongside a photo of co-founders Heidi Zak and Ra’el Cohen, but neglects to mention Spector or any other male involvement.)

Spector was pinpointed by many employees as a “deeply insecure” bully who was known for sending strongly-worded texts if workers so much as skipped a company happy hour. He had a propensity for micromanaging to the point of standing behind employees’ shoulders, dictating social media posts down to color and font size and would frequently send text messages to employees late into the night. As one employee noted,

“In a by women, for women company, it’s pretty ironic that we’re all tiptoeing around a man.”

thirdlove sexism
Photo: @thirdlove / Instagram

Unfortunately, ThirdLove is just one of many hypocritical companies embracing the trend of for-profit feminism. THINX, a feminine hygiene product company ostensibly seeking to banish period taboos, faced criticism when their then-CEO Miki Agrawal was hit with sexual harassment claims and subsequently ousted from the company. Then there’s The Wing, a network of workspaces curated specifically for women (who can afford the hefty $185/month minimum membership fee), which has just recently come under fire for monetizing and even plagiarizing feminist ideals ripped straight from Instagram.

So, seeing that the for-profit feminism trend is showing no signs of slowing down, and that the differences between co-opted feminism and actual feminism are becoming harder and harder to distinguish, how will we be able to spend responsibly?

Ultimately, it will fall to us as consumers to do the proper due diligence of figuring out which companies actually embrace our values versus which are just commodifying them for financial gain. We will have to dig beyond a company’s face-value brand in search of what they actually stand for and how they treat the people who work for them and then determine for ourselves whether they are worthy of our hard-earned money.

It is so important to be wary of being spoon-fed commercialized feminism. Just because a company has an empowering slogan and claims to be female-forward doesn’t mean they’re looking to do anything but sell you something. Invest your money in companies that invest in actual social progress. And, as a good start, maybe look into a different store for your next bra purchase.

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Feature photo: @Thirdlove / Instagram

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