10 Ways Brands Like Aerie are Making the Fashion & Beauty Industries More Inclusive

Fahionable woman sitting on a step

By Tricia McKinnon

A recent report by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and PVH Corp. cited the lack of diversity in the fashion industry at all levels. Specifically, the report stated: “fashion is one of the few industries that touches all lives in some way. Yet, the fashion industry has so far struggled to reflect the country’s diversity in its workforce across all levels”.  

Not only is diversity lacking in the workforce but in many areas across the fashion industry.  From fashion that is not inclusive of all sizes to models that do not represent all ethnicities many consumers still feel excluded. The beauty industry faces similar challenges with makeup lines often missing key shades. While some may argue that progress within the fashion and beauty industries is too slow it’s hard not to notice the changes that are taking place.  

Here are 10 ways to make these industries more inclusive and examples from the retailers that are leading the way. 

1. Move away from the term “plus” size

Many retailers use the labels standard/regular or “plus” size. While this categorization may make it easier for shoppers to see the range of sizes that are available, it can also make consumers feel as though they do not have a “standard” body.  This practice is steeped in irony since “plus” often starts at size 16.  In 1980 the average size was size eight now nearly 40 years later it is size 16. 

ThirdLove is an example of a retailer that has eliminated the term “plus” size.  After launching 24 new sizes, the company stated: “we’ve also made a decision to not call them “plus” size. In fact, we aren’t calling them anything except “sizes”—just like any other size”. Instead ThirdLove says: “our new sizes aren’t plus sized. They’re just YOUR size.”

2.  Include more on trend apparel for all sizes

Many retailers are focusing on making clothing more accessible including Fashion Nova, Good America and ModCloth. In an interview with Paper magazine, Fashion Nova CEO Richard Saghian said: “lots of fast fashion retailers offer trend pieces at low prices with quick, convenient shipping. Fewer create items that are suited to body types not seen in typical fashion campaigns…we thought we could be a little different by celebrating body positivity and using curvier girls and the customers liked it." Instead of offering a separate line of clothing for curvy women Fashion Nova offers many items in sizes ranging from extra small to 3X.   

3.  Add models with disabilities to the mix

Last year Aerie started featuring people with disabilities on its website.  In a step away from the models brands typically use, Aerie showcased a model wearing intimate apparel in a wheelchair. Speaking about the campaign, Jennifer Foyle, Aerie Global Brand President, said: "as a brand, Aerie has been a leader in empowering women and celebrating inclusivity and body positivity since our launch of #AerieREAL in 2014. Our newest bra models are part of our brand's ongoing commitment to show real, authentic and unretouched women, who are at the core of everything that we do." 

Last year, ASOS launched a stylish, waterproof jumpsuit targeted specifically at wheelchair users. Nike’s 30th anniversary Dream Crazy ad campaign featured wheelchair athlete Megan Blunk, who took gold in Rio in 2016 and Isaiah Bird, who was born without legs.

4. Create makeup that encompasses all skin tones

Rihanna took the beauty world by storm when she launched Fenty Beauty with 40 shades of foundation in 2017.  Speaking about the launch one customer said: “I saw other dark girls in Sephora getting matched in this foundaton and it literally melted my heart”. 

The success of the brand led to Fenty Beauty being named one of Time's Inventions of the Year in 2017.  Speaking about the line Rihanna said: “it was important that every woman felt included”.  Shortly after launch, the darker shades began to sell out at Sephora. Several other brands including Dior have since come out with products in broader range of colours. 

5. Add diversity behind the scenes

Edward Enninful became the first black editor of a Vogue publication in 2017.  In 2018 Virgil Abloh became Louis Vuitton’s first African American artistic director.  Beyoncé helped make history when she chose a black photographer for her September 2018 Vogue cover shoot.  It was the first time in Vogue’s 125 year history that a black photographer was used to shoot the cover.  

While these major milestones will open the doors for other people of colour within the fashion industry, Enninful is advocating for more change. He has said: “we need more internships. Youth programs. The way people get into the industry needs to be widened.” 

6. Make re-touching a thing of the past 

Back in 2014 Aerie launched its Aerial Real campaign featuring models that are not re-touched.  Speaking about the campaign a spokesperson for Aerie said: “We left beauty marks, we left tattoos, what you see is really what you get with our campaign,” Some of the other “flaws” that are not retouched are: lines, dimples, fat, puckering and slight stretch marks.  

Target has also jumped on the “keeping it real” bandwagon with the launch of its 2018 swimwear collection. For the campaign it did not airbrush any of its marketing collateral for the collection.  Speaking about the campaign a Target spokesperson said: “something you won’t see? Reshaping or airbrushing. Building on the strong foundation we set with last year’s campaign, we’re celebrating women and encouraging them to embrace the beauty of their own bodies."

7. Have models of all ages and ethnicities at the core of fashion campaigns

It is telling that 2017 marked the first time in Vogue’s history that it featured a “plus-sized” model on its cover, Ashley Graham. Last year for the second time ever a woman of colour, Adut Akech Bior closed Chanel’s fall 2018 couture fashion show. 

People are more likely to buy when fashion represents who they are. Visualization is an important part of the buying process.  When you see someone who looks like you in a fabulous outfit you are more likely to think you can look equally as fabulously in it. Not only do more diverse models whether they are black, Latino, Indian or Asian make people feel good it is also good business.  By 2044 white Americans will represent less than 50% of the US population.  It shouldn’t take a statistic to make fashion more representative but the facts are, more change is necessary. 

8. Create a great shopping experience for all customers

The in-store experience is not always as inclusive as it could be. While shopping with friends consumers are often disappointed if the clothing they are looking for is located in another part of the store in a “plus” size section.  While separating from a friend who does not shop in the “plus” size section may seem like a minor irritant it fuels feelings of inferiority.  Add to this a lack of proper in-store merchandising for all sizes it is not surprising that sometimes people feel more comfortable shopping online or skipping a shopping event altogether.   

To address these issues Nordstrom began an initiative in 2018 to provide mannequins in a range of sizes in its stores.  It added to its existing mix of size 2, 4 and 6 mannequins, size 14 and size 16 mannequins throughout 30 stores in an effort to create a more inclusive shopping experience.  

ModCloth has had pop ups where clothing of all sizes are located within the same area of the store instead of having a separate “plus” size section. 

9. Feature modes of all ages 

Although we live in a society with people of all ages, fashion and beauty campaigns overwhelmingly focus on campaigns starring people from younger demographics.  This is starting to change.  In 2018 Lancôme featured actress Isabella Rossellini in an ad campaign at the age of 65. It was a little twist of irony for Rossellini since she said she was released from her contract with Lancôme at the age of 43 because they wanted someone younger.  

Makeup brand Revolution featured 24 models from the ages of 20-90 years old, un-retouched, in its campaign launch for its Conceal & Define foundation.  Suzi Grant, 68, one of the beauty influencers speaking about the product launch said: “you cannot ignore the size of the demographic and the money that can be made from that demographic.”

10.  Re-dine colour definitions

What does the colour “nude” represent? Often brands sell merchandise using the term “nude” and the colour of the make up or clothing (usually lingerie) is light beige, thus denoting that there is a certain standard for what someone’s natural skin tone looks like.  

To combat this ThirdLove uses the term the “new nakeds” .  On its website it says:  “with five Naked shades to choose from, our Nakeds Collection lets you find the nude that’s right for you.”  The company created five “naked” shades to compliment a variety of skin tones. Fig, for example is a shade that a dark-skinned black woman might chose if she was looking for bra that is close to the colour of her skin.

Inclusivity is here to stay and these changes are only the beginning.

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Tricia McKinnonTrends