I knew I had to look perfect if she was going to fire me. My hours had been cut for a few weeks before I got the text message: come into the store this week, we need to talk about your shifts. My manager at Aritzia had never wanted to talk to me about anything before, so I knew it was bad. But I didn’t want to believe it! I’d never been fired from any job before, not even volunteering. I left campus and prepared in the only way I knew how—blasted some music, put on the best all-Aritzia outfit that was clean, perfected my make-up, and packed some smokes for after.
She fired me sitting on the floor in the middle of the Rideau Centre. Hours were sparse and that was that. In a lucky twist of fate, immediately after my former employer got up and left me on the verge of tears, three of my best friends turned the corner. We smoked about it and ate some ice cream about it and bought some earrings about it and for the moment, I felt better. But getting fired from any job leaves a bad taste in your mouth (far worse than the cigarette-Dairy Queen combo). Admittedly, I was humiliated. I should’ve seen it coming. There, employees are as seasonal as the lace Talula t-shirts. If you don’t make them serious money, you’re not sticking around (probably why they do make so much money).
Looking back, that job left me with much more than just a killer wardrobe. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work at Aritzia (and if you’re a Canadian girl with an interest in fashion, you probably have) read on for the lessons I took from the weirdest, hardest, most superficial job I’ve ever had:
- Appearances are everything
This one is obvious to anyone who has ever stepped foot in one of Aritzia’s stores. I was told when I was hired that they were trying to “phase out” the girls who’d become lazy with their outfits and grooming (it took eight months for me to become one of the phased out). I caught on quickly that you were more likely to be reprimanded or fired if you looked sloppy than if your work was sloppy. In other jobs this sentiment is less obvious but still present—polls of employers have found that they admit to discriminating against women who don’t wear makeup to their job interview. How you look, especially if you’re a woman, matters deeply to your employer—whether that’s fair, legal, or otherwise.
- First impressions don’t mean shit
It’s no secret that the competitive, sales-driven atmosphere at Aritzia creates a less-than-friendly environment for the almost entirely female staff. It turned out that the girls giving you the toughest criticism were actually the ones hoping you would succeed. Their comments often came off as harsh, but in the end, if you didn’t listen when they said it, it would only be a matter of time before the manager did. The very first girl I thought was a bitch turned out to be my best friend there. She was hard on me so I’d change—and therefore, last—because some girls didn’t make it one week.
- Flattery will get you nowhere
People can tell when you’re being ingenuine. Nowhere is this more obvious than at Aritzia. The staff is cold and sometimes even cruel to the new girls . . . so if you slathered on the fake compliments, they’d talk about it and you’d be labeled just that: fake. Giving sparse but sincere compliments is almost always better than buttering someone up just for the sake of it. People who are really good at something—whether it’s getting dressed or playing music—know it and probably feel awkward hearing it from strangers all the time.
- Taking an insult is a lot like taking a compliment
If there’s one thing those women taught me, this is it. You know when your friends compliment you and you deflect? “Your skin is so clear!” “No my foundation is so expensive!” “That outfit’s so cute!” “My roommate picked it out!” My friends at Aritzia never allowed this. They scoffed at deflections until I stopped making excuses and just said “thank you,” when they said they liked my shoes or lipstick or whatever. The same goes for an insult. I don’t know if anyone had ever come up to me and straight up told me my outfit sucked until I started working at Aritzia. After getting past the initial shock of a to-your-face insult (“She’s talking to me!?”) the instinct is usually to cry, grovel, apologize, or some combination of the three. But don’t. Smile and say thank you. This reaction is the opposite of what your insulter expects, so you’ll turn the tables and they’ll be the shocked one. And as your kindergarten teacher taught you, if a bully doesn’t get the reaction they want, they just might shut the hell up.
- The business always comes first
The last lesson I learned there was also the most important. Companies care about what you can do for them, not the other way around. If you treat your job like a time-filler or a stepping-stone to something better, the people above you will catch on. Aritzia had a four-category breakdown to judge its employees—one of these categories was motivation. I made the mistake of thinking that since I studied full-time in a demanding program and also worked another job in my desired field, that I would score high in motivation. As it turned out, motivation was defined as motivation to move up at Aritzia. At the time this pissed me off, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. If Aritzia was just a passing ship to me, why should I have been anything more to them? No reason—as became abundantly clear when I became one of the dreaded “phased out.”
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