Retailers using diverse models like Iskra Lawrence are beating out their competitors; brands using unretouched images gain street cred
Updated: September 13, 2017
Big is beautiful — for your bottom line.
Earlier this year, advocacy group All Woman Project’s dropped a new ad campaign featuring a diverse group of models of different sizes — cellulite, rolls, dimples, scars and all — wearing Aerie brand underwear. “Fat rolls are beautiful,” says Iskra Lawrence, one of the models fronting the campaign.
They’re also beautiful for company’s bottom lines: “I think [what] we, and brands like Aerie, are showcasing, is that there is huge profitability in diversity,” model Charli Howard, one of the project’s founders, told Vogue. “Women want to see their shapes and colors represented, and brands are beginning to see how lucrative that can be.”
Indeed, Kmart just announced that it was introducing so-called “Fabulously Sized” sections featuring apparel size 16 and up in many of its 450-odd stores. According to Women’s Wear Daily, the new sections were inspired by social media feedback and store management noticing that millennials were increasingly focused on “body positivity.” They come as the struggling retailer is expanding the sizing of its more popular in-house collections, some up to 4X.
Other mainstream brands getting into the body positivity movement include U.K. fashion label Missguided, which gained plaudits for using unretouched photos of models in their un-airbrushed glory on its website.
Analysts agree these moves are paying off: Morry Brown, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, says that the use of models of non-typical sizes is boosting sales at a number of brands. Since Aerie, the millennial-friendly underwear label owned by American Eagle Outfitters began using unretouched, non-sample sized models such as Lawrence in 2014, sales have boomed: They grew by 20% in 2015, and by 21% in the third quarter of 2016. When H&M used Ashley Graham, arguably America’s most famous plus-size model, to front a campaign and walk a runway show in early 2016, the fast fashion label saw sales in the rise by 7% in the first half of that year. “Customers want a more democratic viewpoint,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to get to customers that are underserved instead of marketing based on an idealized image.”
Your fat rolls are beautiful🙌 ⬆️I made a video about them (link in my bio)⬆️ And the reason we have been lead to believe they aren't is because we don't see them in the media unless someone's being shamed for weight gain or ridiculed for their body. This is NOT the truth and not OK. Having rolls of skin / fat that are soft / squidgy or big / small does not define your beauty. I wanted to show you how my body looks when I'm relaxed and when I'm posing right next to each other so you can see how easy it is to manipulate how a body looks. (I filmed myself doing this for you on my YouTube) As a model in the industry 13years I've seen nearly all the pics chosen of me for lingerie & swimwear shoots are the ones where my stomach looks flattest. Which for a long time lead me to believe that's how I should look. Because even if I did happen to have a few shots where I'm in a position you can see back fat or rolls someone had decided it's more "beautiful" "aspirational" or will inspire more customers to buy the product if those so called "flaws" don't exist. But things are changing I remember the first time I saw curvier models in editorials with their rolls and back fat and I remember the first time I shot with @aerie and they wanted me to not pose but be real and just myself. Then when I saw my first campaign with them and I could see my unretouched body – pics with rolls / back fat I'm not gonna lie I was shocked. That quickly turned into joy because they made me feel good enough and knew that those "flaws" didn't mean I wasn't beautiful in fact showing that their models didn't have to be "flawless" was incredibly empowering. So thank you #AerieReal and everyone who created the movement it's not just game changing but life changing ILY😘 And that's why when I started my insta about 3years ago I created the #everyBODYisbeautiful bc we are more than the sum of our perfections we are all beautiful equal souls living in imperfectly perfect bodies.
Meanwhile, some competitors associated with heavily Photoshopped, size zero models are struggling. Abercrombie & Fitch laid off 150 employees on Jan 25 and reported $13.64 million in operating income for the third quarter of 2016, down over 70% from a year ago. Once-highflying American Apparel filed for bankruptcy a second time last November and recently sold its assets for $88 million.
Models like Lawrence say their likeness resonates with consumers because it helps women of every size see themselves in a new light: “They go through this mental shift and see themselves as more than just their insecurities and flaws,” she tells Moneyish in an interview. “We are all beautiful equal souls living in imperfectly perfect bodies.” And Howard adds that the All Women Project hears from lots of women “who say we’ve helped them with their self-confidence, or helped them embrace the flaws they otherwise hated.”
While Lawrence is making a splash these days, that wasn’t so five years ago, when she was rejected for being neither small nor big enough to be a regular or plus-size model. Today she is “three to four sizes bigger,” she says and “happier than ever.” Still, seeing her larger self reflected in pictures took some getting used to: “When I saw my first campaign with them [Aerie] and I could see my unretouched body — pics with rolls, back fat — I’m not gonna lie, I was shocked,” she says. But “that quickly turned into joy because they made me feel good enough and knew that those ‘flaws’ didn’t mean I wasn’t beautiful,” she says.
The 26-year-old Lawrence now hopes to teach women around the globe the love she feels for herself, imperfections and all. She recently went on a British television show to persuade three women who had never previously worn bikinis, including one in her 70s, to go on-screen in them. “They were terrified and crying…but they dropped their robes on live TV and two didn’t want to put them back on.”
Lawrence still receives negative feedback online (she blocks and reports people who do this), but she isn’t about to go back to her thinner self: “When you give up the pursuit of perfection watch your life positively grow,” she says. “We are all good enough, and what’s beautiful is that we’re imperfectly perfect and all one of a kind.”
This story was originally published on MarketWatch.
This story was updated on November 10, 2017 with news of Missguided using retouched images.
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