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The size diversity revolution: Why brands are embracing body positivity

As Nike includes plus-size women in its marketing material for the first time, Drapers examines why some brands are turning away from traditional models



Paloma Elsesser in Nike

Nike won praise from customers and the media alike last month when it unveiled its #Brahaus campaign on their social media platforms. Marking a break from its usual roster of super slim athletes, celebrities and models, the sports retailer posted pictures of two non-straight-sized women to its Nike Women page: social media influencer Paloma Elsesser and “lifestyle educator” Claire Fountain.

Across the Atlantic, Aerie, the lingerie and swimwear division of American Eagle, has received similar acclaim for its #AerieReal campaign, which features un-retouched photos of women with different body shapes.

The tide is also starting to turn in the plus-size menswear market, as Drapers reported in May. Male plus-size star Zach Miko has appeared in campaigns for Target and is the face of Bad Rhino, a new menswear range from Yours Clothing. And so it seems for some retailers, using models to project a positve body image in their clothing is now more important than the sizes they represent.

Claire Fountain

Claire Fountain

Claire Fountain

The message that you can be fit at any size was born on Instagram, through plus-size fitness and yoga stars

Nivindya Sharma, senior analyst at Verdict Retail

Social media is behind many brands’ decisions to use a wider range of models, says Nivindya Sharma, senior analyst at Verdict Retail: “Nike’s Instagram campaign really shows the link between social media and the diversity revolution that’s been slowly building over the past five years. The new voices of plus-size bloggers and social media influencers have opened consumers’ eyes to the fact they don’t have to have boring clothes if they’re over a certain size. The message that you can be fit at any size was born on Instagram, through plus-size fitness and yoga stars.”

Nike’s campaign has certainly made a splash on social media. Together, the posts featuring Elsesser and Fountain have more than 144,000 likes on Instagram and have attracted thousands of comments, hundreds more than the average Nike Women post. Aerie’s body-positive campaign has had a tangible impact on sales, which were up overall by 32% in the first quarter of 2016 compared with 2015.

Hannah Isichei, head of PR and marketing for lingerie brand Curvy Kate, agrees that social media has had an impact on how brands are approaching marketing. For the latest campaign for Curvy Kate’s sub-brand, Scantilly, which offers bras in sizes DD-HH cup, the brand used eight women who do not fit the traditional model mould, including plus-size vlogger Gracie Francesca, body positive activist Megan Crabbe and transgender model Effie Van Cluysen. 

taylor diversity shoot 3

taylor diversity shoot 3


“We wanted to find inspirational role models who aren’t normally seen in the media,” says Isichei. “Customers can see so many role models on social media now and there’s not one body type that everyone can relate to.

”As a relatively small brand, having eight different models on one shoot was quite a big cost for us, but it was really pivotal. It’s about reflecting who our customer is in our campaigns.”

Beyond gloss

Both Sharma and Isichei point out that a glossy marketing campaign with diverse models will not go far enough to keep customers happy.

“It can be tricky ground because brands have to back it up with the product,” Sharma says. “If brands are advertising larger sizes, then they have to have those sizes in stores for customers to buy. Availability has been a key issue. It’s not all about marketing a beautiful product – it’s about providing product for all shapes and sizes.”

Nike, for example, has received some complaints on the posts of Elsesser and Fountain from women arguing the brand does not cater for their size. It has responded with comments saying it is always looking to expand its product range and asking customers to check its website for alternative products.

Isichei adds: “The message that we need to see different types of women needs to be carried on by brands. There are some brands who I think are doing a one-off campaign to gain publicity. Although that’s great, we need to make sure we’re continuing to feature a diverse range of women in marketing campaigns.”

Social media influencers, who often aren’t sample size, are increasingly important for brands as they hold a significant sway over what their followers buy. However, Sharma argues there is still a place for campaigns featuring more traditional models.

“I don’t think traditional models are losing their power, a part of fashion is always going to be about what’s aspirational and out of reach. It’s about having a more diverse range, so yes, you might have a campaign featuring someone like Karlie Kloss but why not have a separate marketing campaign featuring women of different sizes, or have one straight-sized model and one plus. It’s about having aspirational images for everyone and representing different sizes equally.”


Readers' comments (1)

  • Pictures show big curves, but still no bellys on any of the models.

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