After pressuring employees to return to the office during the pandemic, Kristen Leanne oversaw layoffs at Arctic Fox, according to former employees.

At the top of Arctic Fox’s website is the hair-dye company’s logo in bright rainbow colors. The visual is meant to represent the alternative brand’s commitment to LGBTQ pride, but former employees said the look is deceiving.
Inside the company’s San Marcos, California, office, the language used by the face of Arctic Fox, Kristen Leanne, the creative director, was anything but inclusive, the employees said.
Nine former Arctic Fox staffers said they overheard Leanne use homophobic language, and eight said they heard her call her ex-husband and business partner Ryan Morgan a “faggot,” and mocked his choice to wear nail polish and asking him if he was gay because of it.
The homophobic language didn’t end there, a former marketing manager, Lindsey Hardin, said.
Leanne, a controversial beauty influencer with an “N-word” scandal and more than 800,000 Instagram followers, also said a female modeling candidate looked “like a dyke.” Leanne then requested a model with more traditionally feminine features, Hardin told Insider.
Kristen Leanne.
Presley Ann/Getty Images for American Influencer Awards
Arctic Fox is one of the most prominent indie hair-dye companies in the US, carried by Hot Topic, Sally Beauty, and Ulta Beauty. Known for its rainbow variety of cruelty-free, vegan, long-lasting colors, it’s been praised by Allure, Nylon, and InStyle for having one of the best at-home hair-color products, particularly for shades like bright pink.
With nearly a million Instagram followers, Arctic Fox has nearly double the social-media following that the household name Manic Panic does.
Insider interviewed a dozen former Arctic Fox employees, some of whom started at the company as early as 2015, the year Leanne began her tenure at the company. Every source interviewed said Leanne would go on to become the greatest detriment to Arctic Fox’s success as a company. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
In a phone call with Insider, both Leanne and Morgan denied that she used homophobic language. Morgan and an Arctic Fox representative pushed back on accusations that Leanne cultivated a toxic workplace. Rather, they touted what they said was Leanne’s work ethic and generosity to the staff through office perks.
The same Arctic Fox representative said the company’s leaders, including Leanne — who remains in her current role — would undergo sensitivity training as a result of Insider’s inquiry into the accusations.
Leanne directed Arctic Fox while promoting herself as a beauty blogger and YouTuber
As beauty consumers have shifted their attention to Instagram and online retailers, beauty influencers have become uniquely positioned to turn their followings into business empires. Arctic Fox launched in October 2014; Leanne and Morgan assumed leadership roles in 2015.
Neither had experience in hair care, but Leanne got her start as a beauty blogger. Her Facebook page racked up 2 million likes by 2014, when she started her beauty YouTube channel, which now has 600,000 subscribers.
In a since deleted March 2015 blog post, Leanne said she and Morgan successfully pitched their Arctic Fox co-ownership to Edward Bae, the chief executive, after Leanne received a dye sample for a product review on her YouTube channel. She wrote that she “ended up falling in love with the product.”
“My fiancé and I put together a proposal basically outlining what we felt we could bring to Arctic Fox,” Leanne wrote. “The two people who created Arctic Fox met us for sushi after they received our proposal and they were very excited about working with us and wanted to make it happen!”
In a 2017 interview with HelloGiggles about the company’s growth, Leanne attributed the success to her fan base of “foxes.” In more recent years, Arctic Fox’s success grew as Leanne’s own following declined. She and Morgan eventually pushed the false story line that they independently created the company.
Arctic Fox’s central manufacturing and shipping office is in Gardena, California, and is run by the company’s CEO and CFO. Leanne and Morgan oversee the creative team for Arctic Fox, in San Marcos. Over the past three years, Arctic Fox has swelled to its largest staff size. Inc. reported that it has experienced 324% growth as a company.
Leanne told Allure in 2018 that the brand was built around social media, but Arctic Fox’s earliest employees said Leanne’s presence on social-media complicated her staffers’ experiences as much as it boosted the company’s fan base.
Former employees said Leanne’s internet personality got in the way of work
Arctic Fox and Morgan characterized Leanne as hardworking and kind to her employees. One former Arctic Fox employee, Christopher Marriott, praised Leanne as someone who devoted herself to her career, particularly as a beauty influencer.
Marriott described himself as Arctic Fox’s first employee and a former friend of Leanne and Morgan (who even lived with them for periods of time). He also said Leanne used her large social-media platform to retaliate against him after he left Arctic Fox.
In May 2019, Leanne published a YouTube video on her main channel. In it, she named Marriott and discussed grievances that included claims he vacated his position before the two weeks’ notice he’d given were up. Marriott told Insider the claims were misleading, which he’d reiterated in an email to Arctic Fox leadership at the time.
“I want the Marketing team of Arctic Fox to succeed and be happy but with things like this going on I don’t see that being the case,” Marriott wrote in his May 2019 email to Arctic Fox. “In my opinion Kristen has been strangling the marketing team so to speak, which is why many people have been quitting including myself. It is very difficult to work with her and deal with her ever changing rules, moods, and behaviors.”
Leanne edited the segment discussing Marriott out of the video after 10,000 people had already viewed it, screenshots in the May 2019 email viewed by Insider show.
Leanne’s presence as an influencer has also been rife with scandal.
Leanne strongly denied viral accusations of animal abuse on her pet YouTube channel in June. Internet sleuths dug up an old “tattoo tour” in which Leanne shows off a tattoo of a can of beans she says she got to represent her Mexican friend, whom she then said she refers to by a racial epithet associated with the food.
“Whenever Kristen had done this kind of stuff, inevitably we would get a handful of messages of people being, like, ‘I can’t believe Kristen did this — I’m never buying Arctic Fox again,'” Coley Baker, a former community-engagement supervisor at the company, said. “It was very frustrating to have to personally be, like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.'”
Arctic Fox said Leanne’s online presence was irrelevant to the workplace in the San Marcos office, but each of the 12 former employees Insider spoke with cast doubt over whether Leanne was fit to remain the face of Arctic Fox.
More recently Leanne (who Insider previously reported apologized for mouthing the N-word on her Instagram story during a song in November 2019) liked an Instagram post from the conservative commentator Candace Owens that said “It’s okay to be normal. . . . I’m not homosexual.”
The official Arctic Fox Instagram then reacted with kissy-face emojis to a callout of Leanne’s endorsement, screenshots of direct messages obtained by Instagram account Here For The Tea show. “Won’t be 😘😘😘 when you lose customers,” a top comment on the post said.
A post shared by HERE FOR THE TEA (@hereforthetea2)
Employees who worked closely with Leanne said she was aggressive and demanding
The dozen former employees all characterized Leanne as behaving in manipulative, toxic, and unprofessional ways. Hardin, the former marketing manager, worked closely with Leanne for more than two years and resigned from Arctic Fox on June 15. Hardin told Insider her main reason for leaving Arctic Fox was that Leanne and Morgan displayed an unwillingness to take a progressive company stance during the Black Lives Matter movement. She also described being a buffer between Leanne and the rest of the staff.
“She hires people, she works them to death, she burns them out, and then she turns them over,” Hardin said. Eight employees who worked at Arctic Fox before 2019 said they believed Leanne’s conduct contributed to the high turnover.
In response to Hardin, Leanne and Morgan said Hardin brought her own emotional issues into work. Hardin’s 2020 coworkers who spoke with Insider denied that Hardin was the source of issues with Leanne or that her emotions contributed negatively to the workplace. Leanne also described inviting Hardin to celebrate holidays with her family and purchasing a new mattress for her when Hardin complained of back issues. Hardin said she felt like she couldn’t say no to either of her boss’ offers.
Leanne and Ryan Morgan.
Rachel Murray/Getty Images for NYX Professional Makeup
Additionally, all 12 employees said they directly witnessed Leanne and Morgan fighting in San Marcos.
“When I first started working there, as an office assistant, I sat in the same room as Kristen and Ryan, and that was the time when they were going through their divorce, but nobody knew,” Lauren Hale, a former project manager, said.
“If they were both there, it would always be very uncomfortable. I would be sitting at my desk, and typically Kristen would start going off on Ryan, just calling him names, being so aggressive and shitty toward him. He would take it, but he kind of poked her buttons here and there.”
Seven employees said Leanne talked down and were dismissive to them. Leanne also delegated entry-level Arctic Fox employees to do personal tasks for her outside their job descriptions, including getting her coffee and cleaning up the empty PR boxes that Leanne received as a beauty influencer, three former assistants said.
Hardin, acting as a stand-in for Leanne’s creative authority when she wasn’t in the office, was in regular communication with her. Hardin said Leanne called her “worthless,” berated her if she didn’t respond on weekends, and encouraged her to be “on call 24/7.” Leanne denied using that language to speak to Hardin.
“If I had an idea that worked and made a ton of money but it wasn’t her idea, she started to hate it,” Hardin said. “I don’t regret leaving at all.”
In a lengthy statement, Arctic Fox said Leanne “bent over backwards to create a positive work environment and make everyone feel appreciated.” At the same time, Arctic Fox said that Leanne was present for only two to three weeks of the year in the San Marcos office in 2019.
Nine former employees who worked at Arctic Fox in 2019 also said that Leanne was largely absent throughout the year, and all nine said that during her “hands-off” periods the company thrived. Whenever Leanne returned to the office is when the work environment turned toxic, all the former employees said.
“When she was in one of her more hands-off cycles, I’d feel like the job was great and it was a very fun work environment and I loved the people I worked with,” Coley Baker, the former community-engagement supervisor who worked at Arctic Fox for more than three years, said.
“But every six months, like clockwork, she’d get something in her head and half the people I worked with would be gone in the span of like a month, and then we’re scrambling to hire on more people.”
This summer, tensions at Arctic Fox resulted in the staff being turned over, then threatened for speaking out
Tension between Leanne and her staff peaked in June, as Black Lives Matter protests over the police killing of George Floyd swept through the US. That month, nine former employees said an internal power struggle erupted with Leanne and Morgan over how the company should address the movement.
Arctic Fox traditionally donated 15% of website profits to animal-rights organizations, but staffers involved in discussions over donations in June said they had to convince Leanne and Morgan that a donation to a racial-justice initiative wouldn’t be seen as “political,” four former employees said.
Eventually, it was decided that 15% of June online sales would be donated to the civil-rights-advocacy group Color of Change. Arctic Fox has yet to receive confirmation that the donation went through. 
On June 1, Leanne asked two Black employees if they’d like to take a day off. She also asked them if they’d appear on the company TikTok to discuss their experiences, a move they declined and that they and seven of their coworkers described as “tokenizing.”
“This has been an emotionally charged week,” Leanne wrote them each on Slack, in messages viewed by Insider. “I was trying to think of what I could offer in the immediate to help alleviate stress.” Three weeks later, both Black employees’ positions were terminated, they told Insider.
What’s in your cart? ✨🛒
A post shared by Arctic Fox Hair Color (@arcticfoxhaircolor) on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:35pm PDTOct 20, 2020 at 3:35pm PDT
The week of June 1, Hardin said she decided independently to take part in the “#PullUpOrShutUp” challenge going viral in the beauty industry, in which companies posted the breakdown of Black employees at the corporate and executive levels.
In Arctic Fox’s case, there were no Black executives, though two of the C-suite team leaders were nonwhite, and a self-critical post from Hardin about the company’s C-suite diversity statistics went up on the Arctic Fox blog and Instagram story.
Leanne dropped a message (viewed by Insider) in the company’s main Slack channel after asking Hardin to remove the posts: “Our company is small, and founder information is 100% private. It is NOT public knowledge. This verbiage implies that our executives were hired on, when in fact we are the founders, and created the company from the beginning.”
Leanne and Morgan are the public faces of Arctic Fox and are described on the company blog as its cofounders. As alluded to in Leanne’s since deleted March 2015 blog post about her pitching her involvement in the company to Bae, Arctic Fox’s CEO, the company has a discrete C-suitewho first registered Arctic Fox as a trademark of parent company Boinca Inc. in 2014.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for House 99 by David Beckham
Within 48 hours of the “#PullUpOrShutUp” post’s removal, Morgan sent an email to staffers — who had been working remotely since the outbreak of the pandemic — asking them to return to the office. All 15 Arctic Fox employees responded to express concerns related to the pandemic and ongoing protests in the San Francisco area.
“To be quite frank, with the timing of it all & the slow response & silence by our executives towards the social injustices currently happening, it seems like you are trying to force us back into the office to prevent us from speaking out & participating in the protests,” one former Arctic Fox employee responded in an email chain viewed by Insider.
“Your profits have been at the forefront of my life for two years. Can my life now, at least, be considered alongside your profits?” Hardin responded in the thread. Morgan said he’d meet with Leanne and the other executives to discuss.
Starting June 8, at least six people had their Shopify account permissions revoked without explanation, they told Insider. Shopify is the e-commerce platform Arctic Fox uses, and the employees saw the unexplained change as a sign of things to come, since it prevented them from doing their jobs.
Baker, who had been at Arctic Fox the longest at that point, was the first to be let go. Insider viewed Slack messages Morgan sent him on June 12, with Morgan asking Baker to call him. Baker asked if the communications could be in writing instead. Morgan doubled down, but Baker wouldn’t budge, and Morgan fired him the following Monday, citing insubordination, in an email that Insider viewed.
Hardin says she quit that day, too, handing her laptop off to her direct supervisor rather than heading back into the office. A third employee, assuming that layoffs were coming, told Insider they resigned.
On June 22, five employees were laid off. An intern who had yet to transition to a full-time position and a contractor were also terminated that day. Five of the employees terminated on June 22 who spoke with Insider said the financial effect of the coronavirus was cited as the reason for their termination. That Monday, as wary Arctic Fox employees filed in and out of the office one by one, they say they were greeted not by Leanne and Morgan but by an executive from the Gardena office whom no one at the San Marcos office had ever met.
Each employee who spoke with Insider said they were offered two weeks’ severance pay in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement that would prevent them from discussing details of the layoffs. Out of the five employees who spoke to Insider about their June 22 termination, no one took the severance pay, they said. Nine former employees told Insider they believed the layoffs were retaliation for employees refusing to return to the San Marcos office.
Initially, Leanne and Morgan said the layoffs were not a quick decision. When challenged by phone over why one employee was given instructions for a future assignment two weeks before being laid off, Leanne and Morgan acknowledged that the decision was made in the two weeks after the staff declined to return to the San Marcos office.
Leanne and Morgan also told Insider the layoffs were financially necessary because of the pandemic’s effect on sales. Arctic Fox would not provide revenue data.
Presley Ann/Getty Images for Sephora
In November, after Insider reached out to Arctic Fox with the former employees’ accusations, a lawyer acting on behalf of Leanne and Arctic Fox sent all the employees cease-and-desist letters.
The letters contained a 24-hour deadline to retract their claims to Insider — cc’ing the lawyer — or else the employees would be ordered to pay $10,000 each “in liquidated damages” for violating the NDA that each employee signed at the beginning of their employment, which said they wouldn’t disclose propriety information about Arctic Fox.
None of the employees responded, and no further action has been taken against them.
Since the June staff turnover, Arctic Fox has hired Leanne’s stepmother to take on customer-service duties. It has also hired additional employees, which Insider found listings for online, including for roles that were previously fulfilled by employees who were laid off. The company’s social-media accounts have stalled in growth.
“What sucks is that there are people out there who are, like, ‘Well, I’m not buying Arctic Fox because Kristen sucks,'” Hardin said. “But the people who did the work there were beautiful and intelligent and creative people who worked night and day to make that brand something.
“And now she gets to have it and have all the credit, and hide behind all the good there was. And she doesn’t have to face what she did.”