WAL-MART'S NEW LOOK

The modest, working-class persona is passé. Wal-Mart... is on the way up!
Jim Hightower's Radio Lowdown
Jim Hightower's Radio Lowdown
WAL-MART'S NEW LOOK
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The modest, working-class persona is passé. Wal-Mart… is on the way up!

Deciding to market to a more affluent clientele, the retailing behemoth is working up a new, fancier look for its workers. Instead of wearing the somewhat-dowdy blue vests with “How May I Help You?” emblazoned on the back, the new dress code features a decidedly preppy garb of khaki pants and navy blue polo shirts.

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Wal-Mart hired an upscale designer who sneers at the company’s old-look smocks, calling them “the lowest guppy in the pool” of retail fashion. The new polo/khaki combo, he says, “is much more business casual” than working class, asserting that Wal-Mart’s crisp preppy look “will raise the status of 1.3 million Americans” who work there.

No doubt the employees, who are paid an average of barely $17,000 a year for full-tme work, would rather see their wages raised than their “status.” In fact, these low-paid workers are miffed that they are having to dig into their own pockets for the new-look khakis, which retail at Wal-Mart for about $15 each.

Let me note, though, that workers are being given one uniform choice. A big issue was whether the workers could leave the new polo shirts untucked for an even more casual feel. Yes, came the ruling from on high: “If they want to tuck it in they can,” says a spokesman. “If not, they can leave it out.” Ah… workplace democracy!

Meanwhile, the formerly downscale chain is also doing a merchandise makeover, stocking more expensive goods, creating a line of urban fashions, and moving so upscale that it is even advertising in Vogue magazine!

This is Jim Hightower saying… One wonders – now that Wal-Mart is selling at higher prices to higher-dollar shoppers, will it finally stop buying its goods on the cheap from Asian sweatshops and start paying fair wages to its workers? Nah… the bosses want a new look – not a new ethic.

Sources:
“Wal-Mart jobs come with a big price tag,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, April 30, 2006.
“If Preppies took over Wal-Mart,” The New York Times, October 3, 2006.

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