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Drapers Debate: Is Simply Be right to hire only plus-size staff?

Yesterday it emerged that Simply Be is hiring larger sized staff to be more “empathetic” towards its customer base. Drapers asks whether this is the right approach.

YES - Caroline Parry

Simply Be’s decision to recruit larger staff to advise its customers is a refreshingly honest and bold move.

Let’s face it, there are plenty of retailers out there recruiting staff for their “perfect” looks and slim waistlines; seeking employees that customers should aspire to look like regardless of the fact that people come in all shapes and sizes.

While the suggestion that only larger size staff could empathise with larger customers is a little patronising, it is hard to argue with the idea of creating an environment where customers are encouraged to feel comfortable and feel they can be themselves.

Seeking larger staff is just a small part of its overall strategy, it is also creating “fitting lounges” where chairs have been replaced with sofas, and that feature magic mirrors allowing shoppers to take pictures of themselves in clothes and email them to friends for a second opinion. 

Industry commentators, Drapers included, are always calling for retailers to be brave and innovative when it comes to creating an enjoyable in-store experience and to go above and beyond in offering good customer service that will keep shoppers returning again and again.

Isn’t that just what Simply Be is doing with this strategy? Shopping is increasingly a luxury for today’s cash-strapped consumers so surely shoppers – of any size – deserve the opportunity to this without being made to feel uncomfortable by cookie-cutter shop assistants.

NO - Victoria Gallagher

It is ludicrous that a retailer can discriminate against who it employs by their dress size. 

Imagine that it was a policy of a “standard” size high street retailer to hire staff based on their weight – for arguments sake, let’s say a size eight limit was introduced. The industry would be up in arms, the retailer would almost certainly be hounded until they backed down - and rightly so.

I’d go so far as to say it is almost offensive to argue that plus-size shoppers need to have special treatment whilst they shop, singling them out as more sensitive for no reason other than their weight.

Just because people are not going to slip into a size six minidress does not mean they need staff to “empathise” with them.

It’s all well and good trying to make shoppers feel more at ease but in purposely employing staff that are a similar size to their shoppers Simply Be is highlighting the fact that their customers are not the “average” size.

Surely if a shop assistant can give styling tips and advice to shoppers then they can do this regardless of their size. 

I am also intrigued as to how Simply Be will go about legally enforcing this rule. Will they ask for people’s dress size on their application forms?

This is not only a question of customer service but a question of discrimination – Simply Be should be employing people because of their skills and experience. Dress size should have nothing to do with it.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • This is a tricky one for Simply Be. Make an announcement and people complain, keep a strategy like this under wraps (*cough* American Apparel *cough*) and when it inevitably does come out you're in for a worse roasting.

    In this instance I am siding with Caroline though. If it makes its customers feel more comfortable then it is a sensible strategy but probably one that probably should have remained on the D/L as it's less inflammatory than the AA line.

    I take Victoria's point but positive discrimination in this instance seems like a business rather than aesthetic call.

    Ian Wright
    Fashion Director, Drapers

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  • Simply Be does not have an active policy of recruiting people by size and we have a mix of people, ages and gender working across our stores portfolio. Naturally the proposition of the brand attracts more applicants who are what the industry terms as 'plus size' but as an employer Simply Be recruit based on talent and skills alone.

    Sarah Bottomley
    Head of Brand, Simply Be

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  • But only if they fit the size 14-plus clothes?

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  • Sarah could you tell us what staff who work in your shops wear if they are below a size 14?

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  • Staff should be picked on merit - size has nothing to do with it.

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