Survey reveals that bullying is "the norm" in the fashion industry


SkinnyGossip Royal
Aug 1, 2013
According to a 2019 survey conducted by news publication Fashionista, bullying is allegedly the "norm" in the fashion industry. Fashionista surveyed 640 professions in the fashion industry (including people working in PR, editorial, retail and design roles). According to the survey:
  • 81% of surveyors said they have been bullied by coworkers at least once.
  • Of those respondents, 72% stated they’ve been publicly humiliated by their bosses as a form of punishment, while 70% said they have been yelled at and 60% reported their supervisors frequently use job security as a threat, saying things like “there are dozens of people waiting to snatch your job if you don’t want it”.
Full text of article linked above and also copied below.

We share the (sometimes dark) results of our reader survey on work-life balance, bullying and stress.

Have you ever had a coworker exclude you from a party or meeting in a way that reminded you distinctly of high school? What about a boss who used public humiliation as a way to punish employees? Ever work a job so demanding that it took over your entire life, leaving little time to do things like eat lunch or go to the bathroom, while barely paying you enough to live on?

If you've worked in fashion for awhile, there's a decent chance you could answer yes to at least one of the above. These kinds of stories are so common that to many fashion people, they hardly seem worth batting an eye at. Instead, these injustices are accumulated by NYFW veterans and PR pros like badges of honor that prove just how dedicated we all are to our jobs.

But what if it didn't have to be that way? This fall, Fashionista partnered with A Fashionable Pause, an investigative project on the state of the industry spearheaded by PR pro Ken Loo, to see just how commonplace these kinds of experiences are within the fashion industry, with the hopes of spurring change. We anonymously surveyed 640 people working in PR, editorial, retail, design and more to hear their stories.

"The reality is there are toxic work environments in every industry, but because of our proximity to luxury and glamour, we're expected to 'deal with it' a little bit more because of the perks. Still, you can't pay your rent on perks," wrote one anonymous survey respondent.

Our hope is that gathering data about bullying, stress and a lack of work-life balance in fashion might help us recognize the problems that are unique to our industry — and begin to see a path towards addressing those issues. Read on for a summary, then download the full PDF of results below.


The fact that the original survey had the word "bullying" in the title means it probably attracted people who have experienced those kinds of behaviors, so it's unsurprising that many respondents said they've experienced workplace bullying in fashion. For the purposes of the survey, bullying was defined as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment... that involves threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done; or verbal abuse," as per the Workplace Bullying Institute.

What's most revealing is where the reported bullying stemmed from and how frequently it occurred: More than two-thirds of people said that bullying is the norm in their work environment, with 81 percent stating that they'd been bullied by a supervisor and 61 percent saying they were bullied by coworkers. As for the forms that bullying can take, 72 percent claim they've had bosses who use public humiliation as a form of punishment, 60 percent said their supervisors have used job security as a threat (saying things like "there are dozens of people waiting to snatch your job if you don't want it") and 77 percent revealed they've been yelled at in the workplace.

The most sobering anecdotes came in the form of write-in responses, which described coworker cyberbullying via anonymous Twitter handles, deliberate exclusion from office-wide parties or meetings, verbal abuse and more.

"It's an incredible shame to be in a woman-dominated industry as a young woman with the hopes that such a community would be uplifting, encouraging and inspiring," wrote one survey-taker. "I wish I could say that my experience was an anomaly, but I have yet to hear a positive career story from the fashion/retail merchant industry."


For some respondents, the biggest problems arose from a set of unrealistic expectations in their workplace. Work-life balance — or the lack thereof — presented a particular sticking point. About a third of respondents said they work more than 10 uncompensated hours per week, and 83 percent of people said they're expected to be available to their bosses via text or email even when they're not on the clock. And while they are on the clock, more than half of our sample said that it's not uncommon to feel like "there isn't time to do basic things like eat or go to the bathroom." It's perhaps no surprise, then, that 58 percent of people reported being at least somewhat dissatisfied with their work-life balance.

"Other industries get paid for the bullshit they're put through, while we're underpaid, overworked and with no benefits," one respondent wrote.

But it's not just expectations about time commitments that are out of wack. It's also expectations about how one "should" look to work in fashion. Almost half of the survey respondents said they'd received negative feedback at work based on what they wore or how they looked; more than half said there was an expectation that they should dress beyond their means. One respondent recalled being forced to wear heels and forego a needed ankle brace and crutches when around clients.

Other stories crossed the line into flat-out discrimination based on religion (i.e. when a Muslim or Jehovah's Witness wanted to dress in accordance with their beliefs about modesty or take time off for a religious holiday), race and size ("my boss quickly got rid of people who didn't meet her 'look' requirements... now everyone who works there is thin and 99 percent white"), the glamorization of eating disorders and more.

"I was told by a major Condé Nast EIC that although I was brilliant, I looked 'too scrappy' to work on a print publication, so I could either essentially get a makeover or work in digital, where I was allowed to look 'more creative.' That same EIC refused to promote a colleague because she 'didn't look like the magazine,' i.e. she wasn't beautiful/thin," one anonymous person wrote.


While all of the above is problematic in and of itself, the fact that there's often little recourse for those who fall victim to toxic workplace dynamics is what can leave many feeling helpless. More than half of the people who took the survey said there is no human resources department or responsible person trained to handle issues in their workplace, and 87 percent said that employees don't feel safe addressing issues with their supervisors.

The fact that 88 percent reported having cried after a workplace encounter and 84 percent said their work environment has made them consider leaving the fashion industry entirely seems to follow naturally from that. This is a real loss for fashion as a whole, because if the industry can't hold onto people who expect basic levels of human decency to be a part of their jobs, then the people who rise to the top and set the culture are more likely to be those who think that bullying, constant overtime and discrimination are normal.

"I would love to go back in time and tell my 17-year-old self not to pursue fashion design," wrote one respondent, while another described her job as a buyer for a big-name department store as "the most abusive workplace I've ever been in, including working at [a] prison." Still others described feeling gaslit, wrestling with what feels like PTSD from cruel bosses and even becoming suicidal as a result of harrowing fashion job experiences.

All of this paints a bleak picture that should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone outside the industry who's unduly seduced by the allure of free clothes, hanging out with celebrities and attending fancy fashion week parties. But for those of the us already in the trenches, it makes one thing clear: We've got to do better, and hold each other — as well as the most powerful players in our industry — accountable.

Thoughts? Tbh, I was going to post this in the "ungrateful whining models" thread but as the survey respondents weren't models it made sense to post in the Fashion Industry sub-forum.

Like modelling, most (if not all) jobs in the fashion industry are hard. It's a competitive, cut throat industry that many people would kill to work in. Can't handle the pressure? Then grow some resilience or find another job, because there are hundreds of thousands of people that would be willing to take your place in a heart beat. Law is exactly the same. Long hours, incredibly competitive, demanding, high pressure. I've never cried at work, but I came close to it once. Did I blame my boss or my employer? No, I blamed myself for being too sensitive.

That being said, I have no doubt that the fashion industry (like all industries) has its problems. The examples of religious and racial discrimination given in the article are obviously concerning and I feel like (anecdotally speaking at least - others may have had different experiences) that the fashion industry is a bit behind other industries when it comes to racial inclusivity.

The stories about fat shaming and "size discrimination" did make me laugh though. Why would you want to work someplace where you're literally the fattest person there? You'd think being surrounded by thin, well dressed women would motivate you to get your shit together and lose the weight!
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Rising Star
May 22, 2021
This is interesting... I think in terms of the size discrimination, as you said it’s part of the description (whether people want it to be or not, that is the modelling industry). However, in terms of the public humiliation and such... As much as resilience is important, I do think that in industries such as the modelling industry, or ballet in my case (I could be projecting), people in power tend to be crueler than they should because, well, they can. My model friends have said that they feel like agents sometimes take things out on them because it’s easy, they can’t complain, and it’s ‘normal’. I don’t mean that things shouldn’t be corrected, even punished, but that if people are being hurt, then maybe we can at least listen and think if there’s a better way, even pedagogically not only morally, to deal with these situations. This is just my opinion based on anecdotes and my experience with similar attitudes, I of course don’t know what goes into dealing with models specifically. I’d be interested to know more from the perspective of VIPs.
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Grand Dame
May 24, 2021
On the size requirements, obviously nobody should be glamorizing EDs as the article says, but every job has different requirements and being able to fit in the clothes is important for the industry. I think that because "luxury and glamour" makes modeling seem like such a desirable job i.e. large supply of models, many models won't speak up about bullying/racism (unless you have a large IG following) because you'll get replaced. A lot of people probably just see beautiful models on runways and covers and don't realize the amount of work and skill that modeling takes. That could also be a part of why most models are shocked when they get into the industry and see that it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Although, I don't think incessant bullying is necessary or moral, especially when models are often so young.

About what you said regarding resilience, I agree that you need to be able to have resilience. However, I think when you're being critiqued on things that are part of your identity (race, religion, etc.) that's a much larger industry issue considering that the majority of the models/people in the fashion industry are still white. I've heard a lot of POC models say it's hard to get hired if you don't have "Eurocentric" facial features, and even when they do get hired they feel like they're satisfying a quota to make the brand look more "politically correct." I'm not sure though; I'd also love to see if any VIPs have more insight.
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VIP - Insider & The Boss
Staff member
Recently Verified
Jan 20, 2012
New York
No disrespect to @Tinyportia but THIS JUST IN: water is wet. The industry is full of bullying, shaming, sadism, sharp elbows (literally lol), etc. Like I know you'll all be surprised to hear this but I'm a major fucking bully. And tbh I think it's one of the two or three reasons I've done so well in the industry (on the business side - I didn't really do well as a model).

It's a fine line though - I want my models to fear me, but I don't want them to hate me. Because if they hate me, they'll stop caring about earning my approval.
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May 27, 2021
Trying to get into the modeling/fashion industry without meeting the requirements and then getting mad about being rejected or "bullied", displays some serious narcissistic behavior.
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Jun 8, 2021
New Orleans, LA
Every career I have ever had involved quite a bit of hazing and bullying. I’m surprised a survey was needed to determine it goes on in the fashion industry.
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