A new LA-based personal style blog called PennyChic is on a mission to make the private label brands sold at Wal-Mart look as chic as anything you can find on Madison Avenue. And we wouldn’t have a big problem with that if Wal-Mart treated the women who make and sell those clothes like human beings.
Granted (and we can tell you this from personal experience), sometimes it just doesn’t make financial sense to shop anywhere else. The tagline “Save Money. Live Better.” is more than just a way to lure customers into the store — it’s a promise. For the vast majority of things it sells, Wal-Mart is able to offer much, much better prices than other chain retailers and certainly better than small operations and boutiques.
And because of that, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with shopping at Wal-Mart — if you have to shop there. Our problem with PennyChic is that it encourages women who don’t necessarily have to seek out the lowest possible price for their fashion to buy, buy, buy Faded Glory ballerina flats ($5) and White Stag chinos ($10).
Wal-Mart is already one of the biggest corporations in the world. There are six members of the Walton family among the Forbes 400. It’s not like the family or anyone who works for the corporation really needs whatever money is generated when you buy a $12 pair of Miley Cyrus + Max Azria sweater leggings.
No one, that is, except for its female employees. Several of them have taken legal action against Wal-Mart for not paying them as much as their male counterparts, and some have been told that they won’t get promotions because women’s familial obligations prevent them from being good managers. There’s a reason that Wal-Mart is, as PennyChic’s founder Shauna Miller calls it, “the last standing taboo in fashion.” And that’s because it treats its employees, and especially its women employees, very poorly. Per Refinery29:
The company recently paid $11.7 million to settle another gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The National Organization of Women (NOW) calls Wal-Mart a “Merchant of Shame” due to the lawsuits and other egregious acts Wal-Mart has taken against women, such as excluding contraceptive coverage from their health plan, forcing some workers in Central America to take pregnancy tests, and paying El Salvadorian women only 15 cents per pair to manufacture pants that retail for $16.95 in U.S. stores.
But for the world’s largest retailer of, well, anything, $11.7 million is a drop in the bucket of hundreds of billions of dollars that come in and out of Wal-Mart’s stores every year. Encouraging more and more people to shop there isn’t going to help the problem — it’s just going to give Wal-Mart more fire power to fight back against allegations of doing really horrible things to the women who work there.
If Wal-Mart is your only good option, then it’s your only good option, and there’s nothing wrong with doing everything you can to save the money you need to save. But if you can afford to pay a little more for your clothes, don’t buy them from Wal-Mart. It might be cheap for you, but it’s not cheap for Wal-Mart employees.