Diversity and body positivity are becoming increasingly common in the advertising world. How did we get here — and what can we learn from brands that are embracing inclusivity?
Once upon a time, companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Victoria’s Secret ruled the market with promises of the “Perfect Body” and manifestos of exclusionary fashion. Now, with Victoria’s Secret rapidly closing stores and Abercrombie attempting to pivot from its body-shaming past, it’s clear that times are changing.
Consumers are looking for something different, and many brands are rising to the challenge. The call for inclusivity — of age, skin color, body type, and more — has been heard by companies who are eschewing airbrushing and showcasing a diverse array of models.
Here are some of the brands that are successfully embracing diversity and body positivity, and what we can learn from their strategies.
ModCloth was an early adopter of integrated plus-size fashion, and their website currently shows both plus and straight sizing for each piece. ModCloth was also one of the first companies to sign the “Heroes Pledge for Advertisers,” promising not to Photoshop their models without noting that retouching had been done.
While discussing one of the brand’s body-positive swimsuit campaigns, ModCloth’s cofounder, Susan Gregg Koger, told TODAY, “It’s not about unreal women and real women — we’re all real women, we all have bodies. And when we put swimsuits on, we all have swimsuit bodies.” Koger has publicly advocated for truth in advertising, and has also been a model herself in collections featuring the brand’s employees and community members.
2. Swimsuits for All
Swimsuits for All carries their message right in the name — the brand is committing to making swimwear accessible and appealing for women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. Like ModCloth, they depict their models as is, without retouching.
Swimsuits for All has had successful partnerships with plus-size fashion icon Ashley Graham, whose colorful 2017 line was built around the mantra, “Every Body, Every Age, Every Beautiful.” This campaign was also notable for including both models and locals from San Juan, where the ads were shot. Then this year, Swimsuits for All teamed up with fashion blogger GabiFresh to create a collection that centers on vibrance and diversity.
In addition to showcasing diverse body types and skin colors, makeup brand Fluide also focuses on depicting a range of gender identities. The fledgeling company — which was launched in January 2018 in response to a lack of queer representation — challenges traditional ideas of what make-up can and should be.
With the tagline, “Makeup for Everyone,” Fluide has committed to representing communities that have often been sidelined by the beauty industry, such as Black, Indigenous, trans, and gender nonbinary audiences. Their website shows models wearing bold and bright colors that complement a variety of skin tones and celebrate individual expression.
After several years of forgoing airbrushing and embracing body positivity, Aerie launched a campaign that included models with disabilities and chronic illnesses. The #AerieREAL line shows women — many of whom are not professional models — with stretch marks, scars, insulin pumps, and colostomy bags, as well as those in wheelchairs or with prosthetic limbs.
Most recently, the company has introduced a group of inspiring #AerieREAL Role Models, including actresses, activists, athletes, and poets. With bold statements like, “The more we share our power, the stronger we all become,” Aerie shows its commitment to being more than just a lingerie and activewear brand.
What Are These Brands Doing Well?
The primary lesson to learn from companies like ModCloth, Swimsuits for All, Fluide, and Aerie is that innovation and creative thinking are the keys to growth. These brands could have followed the status quo and shown a single type of model that wasn’t representative of their consumers. Instead, they tried something new that allowed them to stand out from — and even eclipse — their competitors.
Another way these brands have achieved success is by listening to their customers. Following backlash from body-shaming ads and offensive comments, adaptive companies recognized that their audiences were looking for greater inclusivity. And this shift has largely paid off. For instance, since abandoning Photoshop and focusing on greater diversity, Aerie has seen record growth and expansion.
Brands can learn from these initiatives by celebrating diversity themselves, and by simply listening to the voices of their customers. Ultimately, companies that are not afraid to embrace change and take a bold stance are poised to succeed in the changing consumer landscape.