NEW YORK, United States — The fashion website Repeller, until recently known as Man Repeller, is winding down operations and plans to shut down, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
In a team Zoom call on Monday, the publication's founder, Leandra Medine Cohen, told employees the publication would close. Employees have been told that an announcement regarding severance pay would be made on Friday, people close to the matter told BoF. At least two people have changed their social media accounts to reflect they are now "former" employees of the company.
In June, Cohen announced she would “step back” from daily operations after being publicly criticised by employees for what they saw as racist and classist behaviour, labels some also applied to the website. The company rebranded as Repeller and has made other changes, including new hires and efforts to publish more-inclusive content.
Man Repeller launched in 2010, at a time where bloggers were leading the digital disruption of publishing (Instagram was still two years away, and influencers, as we know them today, would not become a force in fashion until years later).
Cohen helped create the rubric that was quickly replicated by others in the fashion and media spaces, leveraging her digital following into a publication with a staff of writers, editors and other creatives that was meant to go toe-to-toe with the mainstream fashion press. Man Repeller made a name for itself with quirky takes ranging from whether the ripeness of avocados is similar to when single men under age 30 are ready for relationships to whether denim cutoffs are appropriate for adults. Along with Rookie and Jezebel, it was among a handful of digital-native publications that quickly found an audience among Millennial and Gen Z women.
The site frequently featured columns from Cohen herself, as well as first-person essays from its writers, several of whom became influencers in their own right.
But Man Repeller wasn’t immune from the challenges facing fashion media, including falling advertising revenue and competition for attention from Instagram. Then, the publisher was caught up in this summer’s racial reckoning, where current and former employees across publications ranging from Bon Appetit to Refinery29 publicly decried workplace discrimination against Black employees and other people of colour.
In Cohen’s case, she had penned a statement in response to Black Lives Matter protests dominating the zeitgeist, one that many said did not sufficiently address the issues with Man Repeller’s own publication. Cohen apologised, but one recently fired employee, Sabrina Santiago, said: “As a former POC employee that was let go during COVID-19, this ‘apology’ is a slap in the face. I have not been reached out to in any capacity. I hope everyone sees that this is another performative attempt to cover racist actions.” From there, Cohen stepped back from daily operations at the company.
Although Cohen retained ownership over the Man Repeller brand, the business suffered, according to people familiar with the situation. Advertising sales and other revenue from branded content and products weren’t covering the website’s operating budget.
In a statement to BoF, Cohen said, “I am confirming that Repeller, formerly Man Repeller is ending operations and offering employees severance pay. The company has been self-funded by its operations since its launch ten years ago as a personal blog but due to financial constraints, we are no longer able to sustain the business.”
As of Monday, fewer than a dozen employees were left at the company, down from a peak of around 15 employees in 2019, split between the editorial, partnerships and operations teams. At one point, Cohen had considered an opportunity to license the Man Repeller but ultimately declined, according to a representative. With no clear path to profitability, Cohen opted to close the business while it still had enough cash to offer employees severance. The company has not yet decided whether to preserve the site’s content online.