ThirdLove, the San Francisco-based start-up that has positioned itself as the “antithesis” of lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret with images of un-airbrushed models, women older than 40 sporting ThirdLove bras and messages of inclusion, was slammed by former employees Monday, who claimed the whole thing was a sham.
Ten unidentified former employees told Vox Media that ThirdLove’s culture consisted of low pay, a bullying male cofounder and co-chief executive officer and a feud with Victoria’s Secret that was growing increasingly toxic, rather than a sanctuary for female empowerment, the image the brand was trying to project.
“It’s tough to read something like that, where I think what we know is very different than what was written about [us],” said Heidi Zak, cofounder and co-ceo, who started the company with her husband David Spector back in 2012.
“This idea, by women, for women, a lot of companies use it,” Zak admitted. But she added that ThirdLove’s bras are “100 percent” designed by women. The men at the company are there to support the vision, she said.
“We’re really proud of the men that work at ThirdLove,” said Zak, who was in town with Spector for the VIP opening of ThirdLove’s brick-and-mortar shop in SoHo. “Each and every one of them chose to be there because they’re a feminist, because they believe in building something that is totally different, that is the anti-Victoria’s Secret.”
But it’s not just ThirdLove that is striving for inclusion. Rival Victoria’s Secret wants men to be included in the conversation too.
During the recent Investor Update Day at parent company L Brands’ Columbus, Ohio, headquarters, an analyst asked executives why Tory Burch alum John Mehas was chosen to lead the lingerie brand rather than a woman.
“I don’t know if I can answer as a man,” Mehas responded.
L Brands founder, chairman and ceo Leslie Wexner added that all former Victoria’s Secret’s leaders — that is, Sharen Turney and most recently Jan Singer — were women.
“John is the first guy,” Wexner said. “So we don’t want to be discriminating.”
Meanwhile, fashion companies and brands have been quick to capitalize on inclusion and diversity, sealing the deal by hiring models of different shapes and sizes, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations.
But some say that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s about time for a change,” Victoria’s Secret Angel Sofie Rovenstine told WWD while at the African Community and Conservation Foundation’s Impact Benefit in New York. “I’ve been in the industry for five years now and it hasn’t always been like this.”
Rovenstine, who walked in her first Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show last fall in New York, said the change is most evident in the intimates industry.
“We’re starting to see more and more lingerie campaigns that are featuring women who are defined by a different beauty standard than what we’ve seen for so long in the past,” Rovenstine said.
As for ThirdLove’s Zak and Spector, they were still in good spirits during Monday night’s party despite the recent bout of bad publicity.
As guests trickled in, both Zak and Spector talked about how the concept shop has been a success — and learning curve. The duo said they’ll likely extend past the store’s December lease as they continue to make adjustments to the set-up.
The evening also included a talk between ThirdLove investor and journalist Katie Couric and Zak, plates of vegan ceviche, wine and bra fittings. At the end of the night everyone — even the men — received the ThirdLove boob necklace as a parting gift.
“It’s a hot seller right now on Thirdlove.com,” Zak said.
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