Aesthetic labour and diversity on the shopfloor: The experiences of women workers in fashion retail

Oluyadi, Lydia and Dai, Wenjin (2022). Aesthetic labour and diversity on the shopfloor: The experiences of women workers in fashion retail. Equality, diversity and inclusion: An international journal, 42(6) pp. 709–722.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/edi-10-2021-0257

Abstract

Purpose:
This paper explores the workplace experiences of aesthetic labour among racially diverse frontline women workers in a fashion retail store.

Design/methodology/approach:
This qualitative study is based on an ethnographic study, drawing on findings from participant observation and interviews with frontline workers at a fashion retail store in the UK.

Findings:
This paper explores how the embodiments of aesthetic labour are perpetually produced and commodified through the discipline of management in a fashion retail store. It challenges the notion of phenotypical Whiteness as the beauty standard within fashion retail and demonstrates how embodiments differ according to race. While White women are continuously scrutinised by their appearance, the aesthetic demands for women of colour tend to focus on speech and racialised bodies to provide “authentically” exotic experiences for customers. Additionally, this study highlights how the mobilisation of aesthetic labour can create work humiliation and work alienation.

Research limitations/implications:
Despite this study being based on an ethnographic study at one British fashion retailer, this paper seeks to give voices to an underrepresented group by exploring the lived experiences of racially diverse women workers.

Originality/value:
This paper contributes to the intersection between aesthetic labour and race from an embodiment perspective, exploring the workplace experiences of racially diverse women workers in fashion retail and how their various forms of embodiment are racialised and commodified.

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