- Insider takes you behind the scenes of our best stories with our series “The Inside Story”.
- We’ll provide readers with a detailed look at how these stories came together and a preview from the Journalist’s Notebook.
- This week, Insider member Phil Rosen spoke to star reporter Kate Taylor about his recent investigation into teenage clothing brand Brandy Melville.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you started to cover retail.
I’ve been with Insider for almost six years now, coming from Entrepreneur Magazine, where I covered the franchise industry. I joined the retail team in 2015, focusing on fast food as the main pace.
Much of my reporting has attempted to make business news interesting to the average reader and, conversely, to report consumer trends through a business lens. In other words, I have written many fast food reviews alongside news reports and surveys.
I joined the Business News team last year and joined the Features team under Dana Schuster this summer!
How did you realize that Brandy Melville was worth exploring?
I first became interested in Brandy Melville when Rachel Premack tweeted that the retailer had a sub-brand named John Galt. When I tried to figure out who made this decision, I realized that it was impossible to find the CEO of Brandy Melville by searching on Google.
This introduced me to the bizarre and complicated corporate structure behind the brand, which helped me unearth two lawsuits relating to allegations of racial discrimination.
One of the trials mentioned some of the racist and graphic text messages that I quoted in the story – all of which convinced me that this was a story worth digging into.
How long did it take for the story to unfold, and what was the hardest part to relate?
I started doing occasional Google searches at the very end of June and started doing serious reporting in July. The story went live in early September, so it took about two solid months of reporting.
Having joined the Functionalities team at the end of June, this is the first time that I have worked on a piece without doing at least a few beatreportages. For years, I would like at least one story to be completed each day before lunchtime. Going from that very fast pace to spending weeks on an investigation was an adjustment – especially since the publication of the article got off to a somewhat slow start.
I think the roller coaster nature of story reporting was probably the biggest challenge for me. For much of June I contacted 20-40 people a day and heard from maybe one. If I were still a beat reporter, I probably would have thrown in the towel or written a less ambitious article with fewer sources.
After I finally started to find people willing to talk with me, the central idea of the article drastically changed on several occasions as people continued to share such horrific and bizarre stories. Letting the story unfold and trying to do justice to everyone who was willing to speak with me ended up being the hardest part of the process.
Talk about your process for obtaining sources for this story. How did you go about finding people who trusted you?
Finding sources and getting them to trust me was a very long and tedious process, especially since I did not meet any sources in the company.
I started by creating a spreadsheet and reached out to dozens of people who worked at Brandy Melville, finding them mostly through LinkedIn and Instagram. (I found some really good sources while searching on Twitter for former employees.)
I reached out to about 200 people for the room, most of them cold. The vast majority never responded.
Once I was able to speak with a few former employees, it became much easier to find other people to speak to me. Almost all of the workers had other people they thought I should talk to, and so on.
It still involved a lot of follow-ups and chases – so many people were on vacation! – but the supply has snowballed over time.
Some employees were very excited to talk about their experiences at Brandy Melville, but it took time to build trust with others. It required many conversations, confidential and unsaved, both over the phone and by text or email. In general, I think it’s helpful to keep the sources up to date with how an article comes together – what the timeline might look like, what our legal team is doing, that I’ll check everything before publication, etc. .
We talk a lot about “no surprises” journalism in terms of critical stories, but it’s also important when thinking about sources that share intimate and potentially traumatic information.
What excites you the most about your job?
I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to delve deeper into stories that might otherwise be overlooked. It’s also endlessly exciting to be able to work with so many smart and creative people at Insider, especially after seeing the company grow so much since I started in 2015.
You can read some of Kate’s stories about Brandy Melville here:
Brandy Melville’s Partnership with Pacsun Under Threat Amid Allegations of Racism and Sexual Exploitation at ‘One Size’ Brand
Brandy Melville CEO loves libertarianism so much that he named one of his brands John Galt and used copies of “Atlas Shrugged” as store props
Brandy Melville executives exchanged pornography, N-word memes and photos of Hitler in a private group chat