The Missy Empire website says the brand is for ‘kick-ass women’.Photo: Miss Empire
Former staff at a fast-fashion brand that prides itself on empowering young women told the Guardian they were subjected to a toxic culture of bullying, insulting and degrading comments.
The claims were made by women about Missy Empire, a Manchester-based retailer now owned by Frasers Group.
The company was co-founded by brothers Ash and Ish Siddique in 2015, and its website says it’s “for the go-getters, the goal-setters, the kick-ass females who buck convention and create their own kind of beautiful. “.
The brand’s logo is XX, which stands for “the female chromosome”, which the website says is “a subliminal reminder that we are for the female and will continue to put the power of clothes on you”.
However, 18 former staff who spoke to the Guardian described what they claimed was a “toxic” work culture, in which young women were particularly targeted for abuse by managing director Ash Siddique.
Staff were bullied, shouted at and swore at.
He made derogatory comments about the body shape and physical appearance of the models.
The team was asked to model clothes for the managing director.
Seven members of staff said they had been dismissed without reason, and two members of staff claimed they were unable to keep copies of their employment contracts.
Formal complaints were ignored by the owners of Missy Empire.
Their claim is supported by emails, screenshots and testimonials seen by the Guardian. The Guardian sent all the demands to Ash Siddique but he failed to respond.
Testimonials provided to the Guardian suggest that Missy Empire’s junior staff is mainly staffed by young women, many in their first job, and that there is a very high rate of attrition and dismissal.
Attracted by a career in fashion, team members reported being excited to join only to have their enthusiasm and self-confidence destroyed. None of the workers who spoke to the Guardian stayed with the company for more than a year and a half; many of them stayed only a few months.
“I was crying all day in pubs because I was bullied,” said one member of staff who started in late 2022 and left for a new job a year later.
“During my first week there I was called into the office so many times and shouted at about mistakes and the failure of the business. he [Ash Siddique] found out it was my fault.”
She added that her experience there left her “anxious and depressed”.
Bury-based JD Sports, worth £8bn, acquired a majority stake in Missy Empire in June 2021 and sold it to Frasers Group in December 2022. Both are FTSE 100 companies with a number of brands less of them.
Staff told the Guardian that JD Sports and Frasers Group had been made aware of problems at Missy Empire, and that at least seven emails detailing seven separate complaints had been sent to their human resources departments since April 2022. .
Some of the allegations made to the Guardian related to members of staff who have left in recent months raising questions about what action was taken.
Frasers Group did not respond to a request for comment.
A JD Group spokesman said it had been the majority shareholder for 18 months, but Missy Empire was “responsible for the day-to-day running of the business, including its own HR procedures”.
‘I’m called a fucking idiot’
Missy Empire staff raised written complaints with Frasers Group as recently as the end of last year.
Entrepreneur Mike Ashley controls Frasers Group with an almost 72% stake, having made his name with Sports Direct before taking over House of Fraser department stores and acquiring a range of retail brands including Missguided and Jack Wills.
An email to Frasers Group’s HR employee relations manager from one female worker, who left in the summer of 2023, raised questions about swearing in a holiday chat.
She told the HR manager: “In the conversation I was often called a fool, made fun of and told that there is no need for fucking, so I should be allowed to walk out the door. Ash also said that I’m not allowed my vacation because he gets to decide when I do, and he doesn’t feel like giving it to me, and if I want to take vacation I can take it without pay .”
She added: “I and the other employees are often spoken to in this way. Ash’s behavior while working in Missy Empire has caused me anxiety and depression.”
In an earlier email, sent in March 2023, the same employee claimed that a voice recorder was seen on the ceiling of the staff kitchen. She shared a photo of him with Frasers Group and called for an investigation.
The staff member says no action was taken after either email, although the employee relations manager responded on March 20 saying: “Missy Empire does not currently have an HR function.” They asked for more details after the complaint for fear of being recorded.
‘Toxic workplace where people fear their jobs’
At the start of 2023, another staff member, who had worked at Missy Empire since the summer of 2022 but claims she was fired after Ash Siddique found a list of her grievances, also emailed Frasers Group HR employee relations manager .
She raised a series of issues, including allegations of swearing, and derogatory comments about the performance of the cast members and the body shape of the models. The worker claimed that she had been subjected to this treatment and that she had seen others receiving similar treatment.
The email said Ash Siddique “treats staff like they don’t deserve it; patronising, degrading. Swears constantly [sic] like you get dirty and it makes you sad until you interfere”.
He added: “[Ash Siddique] comments on people’s bodies and looks and previously described a model as ‘fat with a pig’s nose’.”
He added that the director had created a “toxic work environment where people were afraid of their jobs”. The woman, who was employed as a staff member in a creative role, said Ash Siddique asked a colleague “if she would rather say please or if he would rather he pay her”.
The employee alleged that her complaint was not taken seriously.
The staff allege that the HR department email address at Missy Empire was controlled and monitored not by the HR manager but by Ash’s brother, Ish Siddique, who is the co-founder and director, so they had nowhere to send their complaints to JD Sports or, since there were takeovers, to Frasers Group.
A contract seen by the Guardian shows women were not paid for overtime. Lunch breaks were unpaid and they demand that their pay be deducted if they return late.
Two female employees who felt they had been fired without cause, and who left in 2023, claimed that they were in a meeting at the end of 2022 where women, while discussing pay rises, were told to join OnlyFans, a service that workers use sex to get paid. for porn videos.
“We just had a chat about pay rises and he was [Ash Siddique] said that we should all be doing OnlyFans as a side hustle and he will be our agent,” said a staff member.
Missy Empire’s creations include bodysuits, bikinis, tops and pants at a lower price range. Her website says the designs are “influenced by celebrities with sex appeal, current pop culture and the latest global trends”.
One woman, in her 20s, who also felt that she had been fired from her job without reason, said that she was told in the job interview that she would be one of many in her department but when she started that was not the case.
“In the first week, two people were fired and that was so normal for everyone who worked there. In the months I was there I saw a lot of people leaving,” she said.
She claimed that staff were asked to try on clothes to see how they fit, although this was not their job description, and were asked to write down their measurements. “One time a revealing garment that was too small came in with him [Ash Siddique] I wanted to try it and I said no,” she said.
A member of staff who worked at Missy Empire for more than five months in 2022 described it as a “weird place” to work.
“There was no privacy,” she said. “Ash was very inappropriate with some staff.” She alleged that the director had “angry arguments” in his office with suppliers and staff.
‘He only wanted women with big bellies and big breasts’
An employee who was there until spring 2023, and who claims she was fired without good reason, said: “He told us the models were too fat and we couldn’t use them. He only wanted women with big boobs and big breasts and tiny waists.”
Another former employee said that the director would allow pictures of the influences that could be used to promote the brand. “He was adamant that all women must have sex appeal … he would openly call women fat or thin. He was very vocal.”
Three workers are concerned about privacy as they allege they are not given a company phone and are expected to use WhatsApp on their phones and laptops to talk to colleagues. They claim that company managers had access to all laptops so they could read all their personal WhatsApp messages if they wanted to.
JD Group said as a “significant shareholder”, Missy Empire’s colleagues could “raise any concerns through the JD Department or whistleblowing policy”. They said a “small number of issues” had been formally reported to the company which had been “investigated and addressed” in accordance with its procedures.
The spokesman said: “Everyone has a fundamental right to feel safe and respected at work.”