The Lonely descent into QAnon: Part 2
Lonely Lingerie's reaction to COVID-19, and setting their sights on the stars (and aliens)
In Part 1, Webworm explored the strange journey fashion brand Lonely Lingerie (a brand embraced by Lena Dunham and Kylie Jenner) had embarked on. This is the conclusion to that story, which sees the founders turning their attention away from the BLM movement, and towards intergalactic aliens.
As with Part 1, I’d like to thank Zoe Walker Ahwa of Ensemble for additional reporting.
Some names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals involved. These names are indicated with an *.
“Grab a Tree and Hold On”
Webworm has spoken to former staff who say Black Lives Matter wasn’t the only contentious issue this year.
There was also huge angst in store about policy around the pandemic. Remember, Lonely founder Steve indicated on his personal Facebook page that he thinks COVID-19 isn’t real, just like the Christchurch terror attacks.
On May 29th, as the NZ death toll sat at 22, Lonely posted “Can we Hug? Are we brave enough?” on Instagram.
The comments were flooded with criticism, which were quickly deleted, before comments were disabled entirely.
Behind the scenes, several staff members felt the company was not taking COVID-19 health and safety seriously within the brand’s Takapuna head office studio and their three New Zealand stores in Ponsonby, Newmarket and Wellington.
Prior to the initial lockdown, Megan* continued to ask senior management about the company’s plan for having staff work from home; a recommendation from the Government at the time. They received no reply so followed up with another email sent about two days before lockdown — with a response from Steve saying “just keep calm and carry on”.
At later alert levels, directives were given to retail staff from senior management that they were not required to limit people or impose distancing.
“We asked absolutely valid questions that involved health and safety and it seemed like they never considered the health and safety of the people coming into store and the people working,” says Olivia*.
“It was still pretty fresh coming out of COVID, like the full lockdown. And whenever we would bring up something they’d be like ‘okay, we’ll get back to you’. No-one really set up any processes or wanted to be transparent about why they didn’t want to implement processes. And the response we got was like ‘it’s not a legal requirement to social distance or to limit the amount of people coming into the store. You don’t have to wear masks. That’s not the Lonely way, that’s not on brand. That’s not how we’re going to do it’,” says Olivia.
Steve seemed to particularly not like the idea of contact tracing.
“We were also told that we do not need people to sign in because it’s a breach of their privacy,” says Nicky. “There was no sort of example of how many people we could have in the space at one time or anything like that.”
At head office, there was also regular pushback from management against contact tracing. Amanda* worked in the studio before resigning in July.
“There were a lot of times where he [Steve] would say things like, ‘I go into a store and they asked me to write down my details. You know, I’m not writing down my details, man. That’s invasion of my privacy. Like, you know, that’s human rights!’” says Amanda.
Another staff member, Megan, recalled a comment from the co-owner at a studio social event. “He said casually that he ‘would never go into a store that forced him to write down his details, or use hand sanitiser’. This is while the staff are concerned about there being no clear COVID protocol for the retail stores and no PPE provided at studio.”
Screenshots from work Slack chats seem to confirm what staff have told us.
Staff also say there was confusion over the supply of masks, gloves and hand sanitiser. Some simply ended up purchasing their own, but were then made to feel out-of-place for choosing to wear them.
“We were made to feel uncomfortable for wearing PPE,” says Megan.
Amanda told a similar story, saying staff were told PPE is only necessary for frontline medical staff and that Lonely wouldn’t be providing masks or gloves.
“When I went into the studio at level three, there was a lot of confusion in terms of masks and gloves and hand sanitisers. […] Steve would come into the office and see us in masks and gloves and not say anything, but just give us weird looks and then would fire off an email saying that we didn’t need to be wearing them and why were we wearing them. And that they, Lonely, weren’t going to provide them. And so my manager bought some with her own money so that we could have them,” says Amanda.
Two staff members recalled that when hand sanitiser was brought into a store, it was soon taken away because it wasn’t on-brand. “They had to wait for Aesop hand sanitiser to be restocked so they could have on-brand hand sanitiser,” says Amanda.
Several former staff members also referenced an email received by Helene that they felt downplayed the virus, in a reply all to a health and safety email sent in March. The co-owner shared a story by Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller about the benefits of nature in strengthening the immune system for prevention, titled ‘The Coronavirus is Heading Your Way. Grab a Tree and Hold On’.
By the time June rolled around, staff were so concerned about Lonely’s response to both the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19, they wrote a letter to Steve and Helene.
13 former and current staff members signed their names to the letter, which included the concerns below:
“As a company that has built a brand on and profited from the creative work of many women of colour, silencing people’s comments and refusing to use a social media platform with such a large reach to condemn racism is completely unacceptable to us [...] On top of this, the refusal to listen to and engage with your own staff’s concerns on the above shows a blatant disregard for your workers.
“As a result, we are becoming distressed at work. We are ashamed to be representing the company and its values at this time. Many of us dread coming into work”
“There needs to be transparency and consultation across the company regarding the values of the brand. Regardless of personal opinions on the current issues (COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter), the refusal to address these public has put us in a difficult position and created an uncomfortable, unpleasant, and unsafe working environment. The lack of clarity and community action via Lonely’s social media activity has put frontline retail staff at risk - as it is these staff who are forced to deal with resulting questions from the public.
“Staff who believed they were being made vulnerable to catching or spreading Corona Virus by working were denied the appropriate protective gear. Concerns around the lack of social distancing and zero limits to customers in the store were ignored. Being told not to protect ourselves when we felt unsafe is unacceptable”
They also raised their concern that Steve was running Lonely’s Instagram account. As Amanda described it, “we hated that he was running the Instagram account and potentially seeing really personal messages from women all over the world who had no idea that it was a guy behind that. So we felt we owed it to those women, to say something about that, too.” So they added that to the letter:
“We strongly believe that the Instagram account should be run by a female team member. We feel as though the community is currently being misled, as they assume they are engaging with other women [..] Consequently they would feel comfortable sharing incredibly vulnerable material with this account.”
Steve and Helene replied.
They opened with: “Lonely has taken all of the concerns raised in this letter very seriously”.
They stated they currently did not have a Health and Safety representative, but were looking to nominate a new one. They also said they “acknowledge that our message was unclear in regards to safety around Covid and social distancing [..] We are happy to work with staff to have a Covid response that everyone is comfortable with should we need this in the future.”
They stated they were re-looking at their HR protocols, before ending with “all other concerns expressed in the attached letter will not be addressed with a response, however Lonely will be seriously considering all suggestions outlined.”
Following the letter of concerns being sent and the response from the owners, several staff members resigned.
Webworm understands at least 15 people have resigned or been made redundant this year, including four members of senior management and the company’s longest standing employee.
Of her time with the brand, Olivia had this to say: “At the beginning I really fucking loved Lonely. And so did all the girls working there, it was such a privilege at the time. You really think that they were there to make women feel amazing and to empower women and to empower all shapes and sizes — but they really don't practice what they preach, it’s the exact opposite.”
Long-time operations manager Keya Matthews, a public facing figurehead of the brand who had been with the company since 2009 (her handwriting literally forms the brand logo) also left in June, at around the same time as several other members of Lonely’s senior management.
Keya was unable to comment, saying that to do so would be a violation of the terms of conditions under which she left the company.
Prior to resigning, she’d voiced concerns with other team members about the contradictory nature of the projected company values and the behaviour of the owners, and failings in their duty of care to staff regarding Covid/PPE.
When approached Lonely for official comment about this story, all I got was this email from Lonely’s email@example.com:
“Lonely as an employer does not have official religious or political affiliations. Employees of Lonely including our Directors have their own personal beliefs, however personal beliefs are not reflected in the work we do and we do not ask any employees to hold the beliefs of others.
As a responsible employer we followed all NZ government guidelines around the Covid-19 Health & Safety requirements in the workplace and ensured our staff had the resources necessary.
While we did not publicly comment on the Black Lives Matter movement, the majority of staff attended protests during paid work time and our physical spaces were closed to allow retail staff to do this.
As your other points are not relevant to the company there is nothing further we can share.”
It wasn’t attributed to a spokesperson, just “Lonely”.
The Future of Lonely: We Are All Stars
At some point, Steve and Helene’s minds increasingly drifted from Q to more spiritual matters. The posts here get confusing, and there is some crossover — but it appears at some point during the pandemic Steve became focussed on the idea that he is a “Star Seed”.
This is part of a New Age belief called “Star people” or “Starseeds”. As described in 1976’s Gods of Aquarius, science fiction writer Brad Steiger posits certain humans are actually aliens, or are possessed by aliens.
At times Starseed adjacent content was also posted on Lonely’s official Instagram account, which boasts 379,000 followers:
Although this was soon edited to just contain the rainbow emoji and nothing else.
Steve and Helene left New Zealand during August’s level three lockdown, taking two of their young children, age 12 and 10, with them. Their social media posts — locked to the public — indicate they’re in the United States.
Lonely’s next big move was to be opening a store in Los Angeles. When co-founder Helene Morris replied to my earlier questions about Steve’s statements on social media, she wanted to pivot this story in that direction:
“We are currently trying to open a store in LA so that could be a much needed positive news story! or even something lighthearted could be good right now like "Who would want a small business in 2020!?” ha!
We are just here trying to support our 20+ team and three kids through very trying times, while trying to make a positive difference amongst all the negativity... something we always strive to do. We feel more love and acceptance is what the world needs right now.”
But as far as that store goes, it’s been radio silence for months. It sits unopened on Melrose Avenue, nestled amongst stores from luxury brands like Diane von Furstenberg, Isabel Marant and The Row.
There is the possibility that their presence in the United States has other motivations.
After Steve posted about COVID-19 being fake, the mosque shootings not being real, and Bill Clinton raping children, the pair posted a photo from the US with the text “This is what ‘2 dangerous conspiracy theorists’ rejected by friends and family for opposing the NWO living in Love look like”:
According to Steve, the photo was taken at Mt Shasta. Located at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, California, Mt Shasta is synonymous with the Star Seed movement. And it’s become a big focus for Steve and Helene.
“It is widely believed that there are civilizations of highly evolved beings residing within the mountain. Some are believed to be in another dimension that are not not currently visible” explains the Star Seed Gatherings website.
Talking to those around Steve, he is allegedly focussed on the date of December 21st. For Starseeds, this date not only marks the start of the Winter Solstice, but the beginning of the “Age of Light”, a time to reunite with both creatures hidden inside the hollow earth, and galactic alien forces in outer space.
Wherever this path leads, the end game for Lonely seems very different to where it started over a decade ago. In Steve’s own words, “What is coming will shock the world.”
If you want to get in touch about this story, you can reach me confidentially on firstname.lastname@example.org.