I wrote this piece about why I decided to quit my position at Deciem. I hope you enjoy it!
My Deciem ordeal began in September 2017 at a WeWork office in Manhattan. At the time, I knew nothing about the company besides the last minute googling I had done the night before. As a beauty professional, I found the concept of the company to be a bit weird but was moved by Brandon’s very heartfelt and personal letter on the website. I was intrigued to learn more and possibly become part of the Deciem family. The interview was pleasant and filled with talk of growth within the company. Before I got up to leave, the young woman checked her phone and said to me “Brandon is in town and would like to meet you! Are you free tomorrow?”. I wasn’t free the following day but for a chance to meet the infamous Brandon, I made myself free. That evening, I received an email with instructions to meet with Brandon Truaxe at the Andaz Hotel on 5th Avenue in room 1301. Being the skeptical New Yorker that I am, I was extremely hesitant to go up to the hotel room of any strange man. Upon my arrival, it was decided that we would meet in the lobby instead.
Myself, the young woman who interviewed me the day before, another prospective employee, Brandon and a man he introduced to us as his grandfather gathered in the lobby and answered a few brief questions about our ambitions and passions. He was intense and had an almost mythical quality about him. He spoke to us about the vision he had for his company in the United States. The young lady that was being considered for the position (also a woman of color) referred to him as a “genius” which led to his grandfather to tease him affectionately. Despite his crisply pressed clothes, spotless sneakers and meticulously slicked hair he had a messy quality to himself that made him relatable. That was the moment I decided I wanted to work for The Abnormal Beauty Company.
The original plan was for the Nolita location and Deciem office(s) to open during the first week of October. Each week, I received news of construction issues and delays. This meant our product trainings were to be held in hotel lobbies and WeWork spaces. Just when I was beginning to lose hope in my new employer, I was offered the opportunity to travel to Toronto to work in the Deciem stores. Naturally, I was excited about a free trip… and also experiencing the culture of the company I was spending every waking moment studying. With all my training materials and my finest black clothes in tow, I caught an early flight compliments of the company.
During my stay in Toronto, I worked at four store locations which included a pop up shop and a private shopping event. I visited about six locations. It was a common occurrence for me to see some of the same workers at multiple locations. At the time, I took this as a sign that everyone was comfortable jumping into roles whenever/wherever they were needed and not as a sign that the company was understaffed. I also was enamoured with the fact that most of the employees I had seen were women of color. I would later find out through firsthand experience that these women were often extremely knowledgeable but being kept in the lowest position the company had to offer. By the end of my trip, I was excited to take all that I learned and replicate the Deciem culture in the United States.
The Nolita location finally opened its doors on December 9th, 2017. The Deciem team was sleep deprived but excited to get to work. We had all grown tired of the daily email updates declaring and postponing the stores opening. New York city was definitely happy to receive us and prepared to put our knowledge to the test. The first few weeks were fast-paced and fun. We bonded as a team and fell into our roles (some of which we had not applied for). It was decided the evening before we opened that one of my fellow brand ambassadors would be promoted to store director. His promotion was effective immediately.
The honeymoon phase didn’t last long. We learned the true nature of our Canadian coworkers when we received our paychecks and most of them were short a couple hundred dollars. It was the week before Christmas in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Email threads that had been active for weeks suddenly went silent once questions and concerns arose. All of us were struggling financially and growing impatient. After many conversations amongst ourselves, I decided to reach out to the then Co CEO, Nicola Kilner. About 30 minutes later, I received a response from Nicola with all of the individuals who had been ignoring me for weeks. Needless to say, everyone who had been ignoring my (and my coworker’s) inquiries for the past few weeks promptly replied with declarations to get the situation resolved. This incident marked the first of many unfortunate ones with Deciem.
For us, the new year marked the beginning of our uncertainty of Brandon’s mental health. He sent a company-wide email informing us of how much he loved us. Immediately after, he “implored” us to not contact him or reach out to him for any reason until the month of February. We were instructed to only make important decisions if we were 100% confident in them. If we were not, those decisions were to be put on hold until he returned. He did not inform us of where he was going or why. The tone of the email sounded like a manic episode.
Around this time, we began to experience random power outages in the store. Because our registers and heating systems were operated via WiFi connection, we would lose heat and the ability to conduct business. The power outages seemed to happen every time there was inclement weather. We would contact the Canadian team that was remotely in charge of the store operations. Once again, our correspondence went unanswered. It was the middle of winter in New York City. We had no heat or hot water (which we hadn’t had since the store opened). As most problems do when they go unattended, as time passed… they got worse. In January, we had a blizzard in New York. It had gotten to the point where most of us had to work with our coats on. We relied on expensive yet ineffective Dyson heaters for some comfort. They were the only heaters available that went with Brandon’s aesthetic. Because of the heating situation, the pipes began to freeze and before you know it, we did not have any running water or a functioning toilet in the store. The Abnormal Beauty company became a hotbed of germs and sickness since we were unable to wash our hands, properly clean the store or use the bathroom.
We considered the fact that Canadians were unaware of OSHA laws in the United States. Our store director sent them article upon article with information regarding the building not being up to code and relayed to them our discomfort. They advised us to use the restroom in the basement of the dilapidated building next door which is also owned by Deciem. It was (and still is) under construction and also had no working electricity or heat. We only went there if absolutely necessary due to the fact that it was an active construction site. The team began to lose morale and each day more and more people called out sick. Inevitably, one of my coworkers got caught the flu. She immediately notified the store director who then notified one of the Canadians. His response was one I will never forget. He called the young woman a liar. He said that they had made Purell hand sanitizer available to us and if we (the employees) did not want to use it, it was our fault. He also said that the company would not be intimidated with threats of calling OSHA. Last but not least, he stated that if we could not go along with the way things were then perhaps we were not good fits for Deciem. That was the day I finally realized Deciem did not live by its many advertised philosophies. They were crooked, passive aggressive and did not care about their employees.
With all of the electrical and heating issues, it was decided that the store would close until they were able to fix things. I stayed home and thought about the decision I had made to leave my previous (well-paying) job for this promising brand that spoke about growth. I began to examine the fact that most of the stores were filled with Brand Ambassadors of color while office positions were reserved for waspy, inexperienced white women. One of my coworkers (a woman of color) was literally a chemist who originally applied for a position in the office. She was interviewed and offered a position as an hourly store employee instead. A transgender coworker of mine who is pursuing a career in public relations once mentioned being interested in a promotion from store keyholder to PR assistant. The response was a coy laugh followed by “You already work for the company.” It was apparent that people like me wouldn’t have much mobility here.
When the store reopened, heads rolled! Almost every week, one of our Canadian contacts was being fired. It was always sudden and followed by a very short and cryptic email to our store director. We began to question whether or not we would all suddenly be let go should Brandon change his mind. To me, his mental health became a real issue following the first video he posted on the Deciem Instagram page declaring the end of all marketing plans. Contrary to what was reported by the media, the entire marketing team was terminated the following day. Then, word went out in the company that we were going in a new direction. From now on (or until he changed his mind again), Deciem would be focusing on customer service and not education. For someone like me, who was interested in attempting to grow in the beauty education “department” of the company, this was disheartening. How was I supposed to be the pioneering black woman in the company if there was no space to pioneer? Also, how could we be effective brand ambassadors if we did not educate customers?
Everything began to fall apart after this. Brandon’s incessant rants on social media brought waves of negativity into the store. Customers who were already dissatisfied with our lack of stock were now questioning us on the morals of our boss. It was a hellish place to be. Our new Canadian contacts were just as unaccountable as the last. They tried their best to credit majority of our complaints to our store director. We knew everything they said was untrue because we watched and listened daily as they mistreated him and put him in compromising situations. Often times, he was physically ill due to the added stresses of this position they forced on him. Seeing them neglect someone who was giving some much of themselves to the company did not make me any more excited to move up within the company. I was disillusioned at this point.
For me, the final straw came when I returned from a brief vacation. Before I took the days off, I was told that I would be compensated for a certain amount of vacation hours. I confirmed this with two of my superiors. When I returned, I reached out to HR to confirm that the hours would be accounted for on my upcoming paycheck. She (nastily) said that they would. On February 28, I received my check and it did not include my vacation hours. I was agitated. Immediately, I reached out to the woman in HR. My email was forwarded to someone else. Then that person forwarded my email to someone else. It was said that I had to confirm my vacation hours with the final person included in the chain of emails. I have still not received any response from that individual. I left Deciem out of frustration. I left because I cannot work at a place that does not honor their word and makes me beg for money that I have earned.
Since my departure, some of my former coworkers have also left Deciem. I love them more for it. As Deciem employees, we were severely underpaid by beauty industry standards, not offered any health benefits as full time workers and taken for granted in the worst possible way. The Abnormal Beauty Company is conducted in a similar manner to a cult. The prime goal is to protect the interest of the leader and to carry out all of his wishes, no matter how bazaar. I once walked in on an interview being conducted by someone in management where he told a prospective employee that instead of the saying which speaks of “drinking the kool aid”, he preferred the term “drinking the coffee”. He proceeded to ask the young woman if she was prepared to drink the coffee. She said yes.
UPDATE: This morning (4/27/2018) I received a text message which included a screenshot from a Deciem store manager. The photo was of a company email from Brandon Truaxe and simply reads “I’m done with DECIEM and EVERYTHING. No need to discuss.”