‘Brandy Hellville’ exposes true colors of teenage fashion brand

Brandy Melville — or according to the recent documentary, “Brandy Hellville” — is a popular clothing brand that has dominated teenage girls’ wardrobes since they opened their first U.S.


Brandy Melville — or according to the recent documentary, “Brandy Hellville” — is a popular clothing brand that has dominated teenage girls’ wardrobes since they opened their first U.S. store in 2009. With over three million followers on Instagram and $332 million in revenue in 2023, Brandy Melville has cemented itself as a teen girl fashion staple. 

As the company gained popularity over the years, Brandy Melville faced accusations of exploitation and discrimination, which has now been brought to light in film. “Brandy Hellville: The Cult of Fast Fashion” premiered in the U.S. on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 highlighting the clothing brand’s incredibly inappropriate management, advertising methods, participation in fast fashion, and controversial slogan, “One size fits most.” 

Over the course of an hour and a half, numerous past employees discuss their experiences while working at Brandy Melville. Many interviewees shared stories of the harmful beauty standards and stereotypes that Brandy Melville owner Stephan Marsan promoted. Employees described seeing anti-semitic and racist texts sent from Marsan, and remembered instances where employees were expected to take a picture of a stereotypically “pretty girl” and send it to him. If he personally found the girl attractive, management would ask her to work at the store. The girls that were frequently hired fit into harmful stereotypical beauty categories: young, white, blonde, and skinny. 

“The documentary really opened me up to how horrible this corporate company is,” Berkeley High School sophomore Xanthe Litt said.  “It’s just run by these creepy old men who have messed up morals. Every single day, the (employees) would have to take photos of their outfits. And if the main guy who led the company didn’t like their outfit, they would get fired.” 

It is insinuated that the producers of the documentary and past employees of Brandy Melville wish for the store to be shut down. Their hatred for Stephan Marsan and his actions are crystal clear throughout the film. However, during an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, the film’s award-winning director Eva Orner admits that teenage girls, who are Brandy Melville’s target audience, will likely choose to ignore the message the film spreads about the brand. “A lot of young girls know that the company’s not great, but they still shop there,” Orner said. “You can get clothes elsewhere. The fact that people are so locked into this brand is really surprising.” Evidently, Brandy Melville is not a store people should or would ethically support. But despite the documentary and recent lawsuits, Brandy Melville’s sales continue to succeed. It’s worth considering why teenage girls still continue to consistently purchase clothes from the store. 

“Brandy Melville, well, it’s cute clothes, and it’s not super expensive, and their marketing is really good. It’s probably rare if I’m not wearing something from Brandy Melville,” BHS freshman Cedar Gilmour said. “Although, (the documentary) made me realize that the brand was fast fashion and that I probably shouldn’t be supporting it as much as I have in the past.” 

The damaging environmental effects of clothing brands like Brandy Melville are endless, due to the perpetual consumerist cycle. Dark details behind this unethical fashion were uncovered in the film, exposing the company for what it truly is. “They shined light on fast fashion, and how horrible it is for the environment. They’re sending all of the clothes that people are throwing out to third world countries to deal with them,” Litt said. 

Perhaps the hesitation to stop buying Brandy Melville is due to the fear of sticking out. Girls think that if they stop buying from Brandy Melville, they would be the only ones doing so. Still, while Brandy Melville is an extreme example of fast fashion and prejudice in the clothing industry, it is important to notice that the majority of clothing stores are not perfect either. Brands including Shein, Zara, H&M, and Urban Outfitters all rely on fast fashion and underpaid manual labor to produce their clothing. 

BHS freshman Alana Cortes explained that her favorite way to not buy from major fast fashion brands like Brandy Melville is by going to thrift stores. “With thrifting, I like that you can get stuff for a lot cheaper and you feel better because it’s basically recycling,” Cortes said. “You’re not purchasing new clothes from a sketchy brand just for the fun of it.”

Unfortunately, despite all the information which the documentary has uncovered, it’s apparent that Brandy Melville will likely not lose much business. While it’s certainly tempting to purchase clothes that are considered “trendy” or fit your budget, this documentary clearly lays out why it’s not worth it. 

Brandy Melville is built on a foundation of exploiting and manipulating beauty standards, detrimentally impacting teenage girls. As consumers, we have an obligation to be mindful of the clothing brands we choose to support.