Sydney manager Honey Birdette slams ‘toxic’ culture and dress code

This Sydney woman was thrilled when she got a new job that promised to change her life – but the reality was a ‘toxic’ nightmare.

A former manager of Australian lingerie giant Honey Birdette has revealed the job was so “toxic” that she preferred her role as a sex worker.

After finishing high school, Emily* moved to Sydney and “fell into” sex work to pay her bills.

Wanting a “socially acceptable career,” she moved into a management role at lingerie and sex toy brand Honey Birdette in 2017.

But she says what followed was a year of abuse, overwork, low pay and deteriorating mental health.

She eventually returned to the sex work industry where she was much happier and made more money.

“It was just a very toxic work environment,” she told

“I ended up becoming a horrible, toxic person because of the pressure put on me from above. It took a long time for me to be able to look at myself and feel happy with who I had become.

She also lost $2,000 out of pocket for physical therapy sessions after having to wear high heels for 38 hours a week.

Honey Birdette provides employees with a work manual that requires staff to wear high-heeled shoes during peak periods, ideally black or patent stilettos.

Peak time is listed as 11 a.m. to close and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for late trading, which is basically all day.

It’s a fact that Emily learned the hard way.

“It was 38 hours a week standing in high heels,” she said.

“The second those doors closed I was ripping my heels off because my feet were killing me.

“We weren’t allowed to stop, we weren’t allowed near the office [even just to lean on] unless we serve someone.

After a year, Emily decided to quit, but six months later she was still feeling the ramifications.

She had to see a physiotherapist for six months afterwards to break down the muscle protection in her calves, a condition in which the muscles were constantly kept in a state of readiness by the heels, causing significant pain.

“Because of their dress code when I left, I had actually developed back and foot problems because when I was working there they didn’t give the apartment allowance,” he said. she declared.

For three months she did physio once a week, and for another three months she went fortnightly.

Each session cost $120, bringing his total costs to just over $2,000.

Emily also felt extremely stressed due to the pressure she was receiving from upper management to make sales.

“Our KPIs [key performance indicators] were ridiculous. I remember one day I had a KPI of $17,000,” she said, meaning she had to make enough sales to generate $17,000 in revenue.

“My clearest memory of my time there is when they [my boss] told me that I should tell a new member of staff if he had a fourth week without achieving his KPI he would be fired.

“It was a common threat.”

Emily would use her former connections as a sex worker in the kink community to bring former customers into the store to buy items, which she said was crucial to keeping her job and hitting sales targets.

By the time Emily quit her job, she had less money than before, as staff also had to buy outfits from the store.

“I came out of it incredibly stressed. [and] many brokers. They would always push for you to have at least one of the new campaign sets. she explained.

“At that time they were pushing bondage heavily, I had to wear a harness while I was working.”

Although the staff received a discount, they were still expected to buy from the store.

With growing expenses and overtime to meet her KPIs, Emily had to return to her old job in the sex industry to be able to continue living in Sydney.

“I ended up going back into the sex industry and working both jobs to survive,” she said.

“I would do three nights a week [in sex work] which was the fortnight’s wages [at Honey Birdette rates].”

Emily says she received very little support from her boss: “I was lucky enough to hear from her once every three months. When I had a problem, I was just told to fix it myself.

She also said she wasn’t really allowed a bathroom break if she was the only one working in the store.

Once she temporarily closed the store to use the bathroom and when she came back she got in trouble because the head office had come to do a spot check.

“I felt so bad for having to pee,” she added.

This isn’t the first time Honey Birdette has found herself at the center of controversy.

Last month, a worker took to social media to complain about management telling staff how to change a light fixture, exposing himself to a bare light bulb during the protest.

The anonymous staff member called the move unsafe.

In 2016, former employee Chanelle Rogers said when she complained to a manager about a customer detailing a scene of rape while she was alone in the store, she was told to “go upstairs. music and to go on with the day and not let it affect my sales”.

The woman started a petition criticizing Honey Birdette for an alleged culture of bullying, which was endorsed by other women claiming to be former employees as well.

Protests took place outside Honey Birdette stores in 2016. contacted Honey Birdette repeatedly over several days for comment, but had no response at the time of publication.

*Name withheld for privacy reasons.

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