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-time 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 once 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!
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.
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