Morphe Cosmetics, a makeup brand once synonymous with YouTube beauty culture, confirmed Thursday it was shutting down all its U.S. stores — a move that shocked its employees, outraged customers and left some experts questioning the brand’s future.
The news comes after a handful of the company’s employees took to TikTok over the holidays to call out the company’s lack of transparency during the layoffs, with many using the hashtag “#justiceformorpheretailemployees.” Viewers quickly responded in support, blasting the brand for allegedly leaving its employees in the dark while stores ran out of inventory.
Some beauty experts said the news was not surprising, given that the company had reportedly experienced years of financial and legal troubles, and reputational damage. The brand’s treatment of employees during the shutdown could further hurt its reputation among Generation Z consumers, who have already demonstrated their aversion toward Morphe.
“Gen Z makes purchasing decisions that are based on their values,” Hana Ben-Shabat, founder of research firm Gen Z Planet and author of “Gen Z 360: Preparing for the Inevitable Change in Culture, Work, and Commerce,” said. These values include buying from companies that make diversity a priority, reduce environmental impact and treat their employees right.
Launched in 2008, the company — which promotes itself on its social platforms as “Makeup for the Creators” — has had its share of controversy for years now.
Morphe, which is owned by Forma Brands, has been embroiled in its collaborators' controversies, including accusations of racism against Jeffree Star and allegations that James Charles sent sexual messages to minors.
A spokesperson for Forma Brands did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In its Twitter statement, Morphe wrote the company is “forever grateful to our store teams for their passion, talent and dedication over the years.”
Young consumers, whom Morphe built its brand on, have shifted away from mega-influencers, according to Ben-Shabat.
In the past year, Morphe was also hit with several lawsuits involving unpaid rent on one of its retail locations, false advertising and lack of support for its subsidiaries. The way in which the brand handled its closures could also open it up to more legal challenges, according to Wendy Musell, an employment civil rights attorney and founding partner of the Law Offices of Wendy Musell.
The recent backlash toward the brand has spilled over to other social media platforms — including Morphe’s Instagram page.
“It’s a shame this is one of my favorite makeup companies and to see a tank like this is ridiculous and the fact that you guys are treating your store employees so terribly is what’s crazy to me,” one user wrote on the brand’s most recent Instagram post from Dec. 1.
On Twitter, where the brand turned replies off to its tweet announcing the news of store shutterings, people described the closures as heartbreaking.
“I worked here for a year and a half, and I’m just sad,” one user wrote.
Morphe employees sounded alarm for weeks
Some of Morphe's retail employees said it was shocking that the company had laid them off so abruptly — with several employees telling NBC News that they received a day’s notice before losing their jobs.
Three employees who spoke to NBC News said their stores had been quickly cleared of product following highly discounted sales beginning after Black Friday. Workers said they began to worry after Morphe stopped sending product shipments to their locations. One employee from Morphe’s Oregon location said the company had told stores that the restocking delays were due to shipment issues.
The now former employees said they were informed about the closures in a Zoom call on Tuesday, and that any remaining stores would close by Saturday.
TikToks under the hashtag #justiceformorpheretailemployees have received more than 7.5 million views, although some viral videos about the store closures have been deleted.
Kim, a Morphe employee who asked that her full name not be used out of fear she would lose her severance pay, said she was advised to take down her TikToks about the store closures to secure her severance.
Kim said she was passionate about the brand because it was inclusive and supportive of all makeup artists. She called her colleagues the “kindest, most supportive, creative people everybody has met.
“This is not just a job, it’s your dream,” Kim said about working at Morphe. “It’s in a way your second life — for some people, their first.”
Kim said she was told that managers would receive three weeks of severance while beauty artists, the name for Morphe’s retail employees, would get two weeks. As of Friday, Morphe employees who spoke with NBC News said they hadn’t received their severance packets yet.
Musell said workers should understand their rights under federal and state laws. She said a one-day notice for mass layoffs could put a company in violation of the U.S. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, and of labor laws in California, where Morphe had 11 stores.
The value of severance packages to the employer, Musell said, "is the employee must waive all of their legal rights and it buys the peace, so to speak. … But those workers may wish to look into whether there’s a violation of the WARN Act and whether they’re, at minimum, entitled to 60 days" of pay, Musell said.
The 'end of an era' for Morphe
Morphe gained prominence during the heyday of beauty on YouTube between 2016 and 2019. It was at the forefront of a maximalist style of makeup that has fallen out of fashion with consumers, particularly Gen Z audiences, who have pivoted to a more minimalist approach to beauty and skin care.
“They were not quick to react to that because they were building on that artistry,” Ben-Shabat said, referring to the creative maximal looks Morphe is known for.
Morphe has also reportedly seen sales shrink over the past two years. Business of Fashion reported that the brand saw sales drop from $500 million in 2020 to $295 million in 2021. Parent company Forma Brands was also reportedly considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October. The store closures indicate that sales were continuing to flail, Ben-Shabat said.
“Many consumer brands that started on the internet understand that stores are as important and many of them are opening stores,” she said. “So at a time that many DTC (direct-to-consumer) brands are kind of admitting that maybe the DTC model is no longer what it used to be, and there is value in having stores, Morphe is closing stores.”
While Morphe continues its uphill battle for relevance, employees like Kim are left to figure out their next steps. Many are still reeling from the sudden job-loss news, while others are trying to secure employment elsewhere.
Kim said she's choosing to look back at her accomplishments at Morphe rather than dwell on the loss of her dream job.
“We’re the end of an era and that’s how I’m looking at it,” Kim said. “I’m grateful that I got myself here and grateful that I am able to pull myself out.”