Will diverse fashion models ever be the norm?

The case for diverse fashion models

For years fashion retailers have used models significantly smaller than the average woman in their advertising campaigns. Such a strategy is based upon the premise that consumers aspire to look like these models.

However, this may be an outdated view according to a study by Ben Barry who runs a model agency representing models of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities.

In his research he created mock advertising campaigns featuring women of different sizes, ages and ethnicities wearing the same dress. His findings showed that woman’s purchase intentions increased by more than 200% when the models they saw in ads represented their size.

Research from the USA and Australia supports Barry’s findings – that consumers are more likely to spend the same amount or more on products that use a diverse range of individuals in their advertising. These studies also found that diversity in advertising makes us happier.

The retailers using diverse fashion models

Despite this growing body of research in support of diverse fashion models, many retailers continue to use tiny models. In the UK, less than 5% of the population of women over the age of 16 has the figure of a typical model.

There are, however, a few instances of change afoot in the industry:

In the UK, Debenhams is the first retailer to use a diverse range of models in their campaigns. Debenhams said,

“By becoming the first high street retailer in the UK to promote its latest fashion collections by using models in a diverse variety of ages, sizes and looks – the imagery in our ‘High Summer Look Book’ turns its back on the industry norm of young thin models.”

This is a great first step in the fashion industry, and one that hopefully will spur other retailers on to do the same.

“Our customers are not the same shape or size so our latest look book celebrates this diversity. We would be delighted if others followed our lead. Hopefully these shots will be a step, albeit a small one, towards more people feeling more comfortable about their bodies.”

Ed Watson, Director of PR, Debenhams

More recently, American Apparel announced its latest lingerie model is a 62 year old woman. Her photo featured on social media with the tagline, “Sexy has no expiration date”

Will diversion fashion models become the norm?

While there are a few retailers ringing in the diversity changes, will we ever get to the point where diverse fashion models are the norm? 

I’d love to believe we can. 

However, I think society has a long way to go before it can forsake the thin, young, beauty ideal. 

It has become so deeply ingrained in western culture, that I fear it will take more time; and while fashion retailers can still profit from the ‘thin ideal’, they have little incentive to change.

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