Wet Seal's Attempt to Be a Better Version of Itself Isn't Paying Off


Has Wet Seal, the store you likely shopped at in middle school and then forgot about, become a secretly legit company? Or is it just another clothing monstrosity with a mixed history?

Wet Seal recently showed an eye-opening approach to fashion advertising by choosing a young girl with Down’s Syndrome to model for them and making plus-sized clothing up to size 24 available. Those changes went over well; one woman wrote on their Facebook page recently, “When I heard about you carrying plus size AND using a new model with Down Syndrome. Well you just made me a fan and a customer.” But the year prior, the company was getting decidedly less positive press. There were reports that the company was floundering sales-wise. Now Women’s Wear Daily points out a study out of University of California, Davis that credits Wet Seal as one of the most gender-inclusive companies in California. Though their CEO is a man, Wet Seal has more women than men on its board. Additionally, 54.5% of its top positions are filled by women.

“As a retailer of women’s apparel, Wet Seal is committed to empowering, developing, and recognizing women whether they are our customers, employees, or members of the communities in which we operate,” said CEO John D. Goodman. “Our people are our lifeblood and it’s the rich diversity of our employees and customers that sets us apart — at Wet Seal we are passionate about creating opportunities for people at every level.”

That’s an interesting comment from Wet Seal, given that they were sued last year for racially discriminating against their employees, firing their female CEO in the aftermath of that suit. They settled for $7.5 million and alleged that they were making “numerous changes” to increase diversity in their company, a decision lauded by the NAACP.

Unfortunately, that push to be “better” isn’t translating into sales. Last week, the company announced that their third quarter loss had gotten a little bit bigger, which Goodman called a “challenging” start to the holiday season. Over the summer, they teamed up with ABC Family to release a line of clothing called Crush inspired by characters on the shows The Fosters, Switched at Birth, and Twisted. ABC Family is a channel with a notably diverse set of casts, so the alignment made sense for Wet Seal’s new branding. Unfortunately, these attempts to actually market to the people buying their clothes in a real way might be too little too late for a company whose heyday was so long ago its hard to remember if it ever even was.

Images via Matt Sayles/Invision for Disney Consumer Products/AP

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