Victoria’s Secret joins the ‘inclusive revolution,’ finally realising diversity sells

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Large scale advertising pictures outside Victoria's Secret lingerie store in London, United Kingdom. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Large scale advertising pictures outside Victoria's Secret lingerie store in London, United Kingdom. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
  • Victoria’s Secret has learned a lesson other leading fashion brands are realising: diversity sells.
  • For years now, consumers have called for greater inclusion and representation in mainstream fashion. 
  • Demands for diversity and inclusion must continue but need to move beyond casting calls and must include boardrooms and brand teams. 

Victoria’s Secret recently announced a cast of new “angels.” They include American athlete Megan Rapinoe, actress and activist Priyanka Chopra Jonas and the brand’s first transgender model, Vanetina Sampaio.

Together, they speak to a far more diverse image of beauty than was common for the once popular company.

Victoria’s Secret learned a lesson other leading fashion brands and the industry at large are coming to realise: diversity sells.

READ MORE | Months after Victoria’s Secret CEO resigns, the lingerie company has cast their first-ever openly transgender model 

Better representation

This isn’t surprising. For years, consumers have called for greater inclusion and better representation in mainstream fashion. And the industry’s most avant-garde players have already responded, including Rihanna’s much talked about Savage X Fenty and Summersalt’s “every body is a beach body” campaign.

Consumers are willing to back brands that feature diversity with their praise and more importantly, their dollars.

In the last two years, fashion brands like Tommy HilfigerNike and lingerie competitor Aerie all made efforts toward greater inclusion. They feature plus-size models, transgender models and models with disabilities in their stores and online campaigns.

Each brand has been rewarded with public kudos and a flurry of consumer purchases. Yet others in the industry lagged. Despite Victoria’s Secret’s latest inclusion and diversity efforts, models with disabilities were missing.

Embarking on diversity initiatives

According to our new study, A model who looks like me: Communicating and consuming representations of disability, the $3 trillion fashion industry has, until recently, paid little attention to gender, sexuality, race and disability.

We ask how and why the industry almost suddenly embarked on diversity initiatives.

We focus our attention on disability because it’s traditionally seen as inconsistent with fashion. The industry largely saw a person with disabilities as someone who can’t embody, reflect or convey beauty. In other words, disability would turn off consumers.

Our analysis over five years of three mainstream fashion magazines - VogueInStyle and Harper’s Bazaar - revealed not a single person with a disability appearing on the cover. A look at 2,500 ads in InStyle turned up similarly little.

So we turned to the recent and well-known Nike, Aerie and Tommy Hilfiger campaigns that featured a diverse cast of models, including those with a range of visible and non-visible disabilities.

READ MORE | This bra shop in the UK has been breast-shaming women for over 10 years

Tommy Hilfiger’s campaign went a step further. The brand developed adaptive clothing specifically designed for people with disabilities — a step few others have taken.

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