Brandy Hellville: HBO’s New Fast Fashion Documentary Lands This Week

By Olivia Emily

1 month ago

The film uncovers the toxic culture at the stores of US teen fashion brand, Brandy Melville

Having debuted at SXSW film festival last month, HBO’s documentary film delving into the toxic culture underpinning popular teen fashion brand Brandy Melville arrives this week. Here’s everything you need to know about Brandy Hellville & The Cult Of Fast Fashion, plus how to watch it in the UK.

Brandy Hellville & The Cult Of Fast Fashion

Two young women flicking their hair, dressed in Brandy Melville


With an all-American aesthetic – think loungewear emblazoned with university names, plus Ivy League flags adorning the shop walls – you might be surprised to learn that Brandy Melville is not actually American, but an Italian fast fashion brand founded by Silvio Marsan and his son Stefan in Italy in the early 1980s. With moderate success in Italy, fast forward to 2009, and the Marsan’s make their savviest business decision to date: opening a store in Los Angeles, in the Westwood area right beside the UCLA campus – their first US branch. The brand quickly gained popularity across the Atlantic; as of 2024, there are 40 Brandy Melville shops in the US, with only 20 in Italy. As one young woman summarises in the trailer: ‘The reason I like it? Everyone else liked it.’ With a fanbase predominantly made up of teenage girls, the problematic one size policy did not deter good business.

That’s right: Brandy Melville only stocks its clothing in one size. Naturally, the brand has garnered criticism for this strange move, which it strikingly has claimed is to reduce environmental waste. As well as fatphobia, Brandy Melville has garnered controversy for its colourism and toxic work environment, and Brandy Hellville delves into all of this – and more.

A woman shopping in Brandy Melville


What Is Brandy Hellville About?

Brandy Hellville examines the rise and rise of the Italian fast fashion brand Brandy Melville, delving into the dark underbelly of the brand: the inherent toxicity of a ‘one size fits most’ policy, the treatment of staff and troubling recruitment processes, and the beauty standards set for employees and the young ‘Brandy girls’ plastered across the brand’s social media accounts. Broadening its lens, Brandy Hellville then looks at the wider fast fashion landscape Brandy Melville operates in, moving to Accra in Ghana to look at the environmental impact of discarded textiles.

As HBO summarises: ‘In the early Tumblr era of the 2010s, Brandy Melville became the must-have clothing brand for young girls across the world. Through a calculated social media presence and promoting an unattainable aesthetic, fuelled by Instagram campaigns featuring its own employees and select “Brandy girls”, Brandy Melville conferred a sense of coolness to the teens who wore the tiny “one size fits most” clothes that quickly exploded, and today has nearly 100 stores in over 15 countries and over 80 cities worldwide. However, candid interviews with former employees and fashion insiders, as well as troubling accounts from former executives, reveal a troubling toxic work environment and discriminatory recruiting methods at the company and shed light on the inner workings of a business that flourished by setting impossible beauty standards on social media and in real life for its customers and employees.

‘Behind the scenes, an environment of alleged discriminatory work practices thrived by preying on the desires of young girls to fit into the Brandy Melville aesthetic,’ HBO continues. ‘Broadening its focus, the film examines the far-reaching reverberations of mass-produced fast fashion by Brandy Melville and other mainstream fashion brands, as well as the consequences of the collective increase in consumption and production of cheap clothing, traveling to Accra, Ghana, a destination for discarded textiles that end up polluting landfills and waters. From the microcosm of one cult-like brand to the universal detriments of disposable clothing, Brandy Hellville & The Cult Of Fast Fashion exposes a wide system of exploitation within the global fashion industry.’

A pile of discarded clothes in landfill


The Trailer

Who Is Involved With The Documentary?

Naturally, Brandy Melville’s top executives and current employees are not involved with Brandy Hellville & The Cult of Fast Fashion. But here’s who is:

  • Former Brandy Melville employees and former executives
  • Investigative journalist, Kate Taylor
  • Former Teen Vogue fashion editor, Alyssa Hardy
  • The Or Foundation’s Liz Ricketts, Sammy Oteng and Chloe Asaam
  • CEO of Remake Advocacy Group, Ayesha Barenblat
  • Matteo Biffoni, mayor of Prato, Italy
  • CEO of Textile Exchange, Claire Bergkamp
  • Manteco s.p.a. executives Matteo Mantellassi, Marco Mantellassi and Franco Mantellassi.
A woman surrounded by clothing


Where To Watch Brandy Hellville

In the US, Brandy Hellville debuts on Tuesday 9 April 2024 at 9pm ET/PT on HBO. It will then be available to stream on Max.

The UK release date is TBC – but check back here for updates.