Strong is the New Black: Redefining Femininity in Fashion
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International Women’s Day 2018
On International Women’s Day, we see the #metoo and #timesup movements have opened up a very important conversation. At the heart of the 90th Academy Awards, last weekend was the growing message of inclusion and women’s rights. There is a collective search for justice and a heightened sense of empowerment amongst women. Brave stories of assault, sexism, wage gaps and abuses of power have spurred a rise in political and social activism. In the midst of this movement, we see companies scrambling, perhaps too late, to ensure a safe work environment for women. We see consumers boycotting brands in protest.
The time could not be better for mainstream women’s brands to move away from obsolete marketing strategies which objectify and diminish the power of femininity instead of building it up. Strangely, however, a slew of behemoth lingerie and apparel brands continue to promote a singular body type, hypersexualize women, ignore trans women, and offer bare minimum maternity leave benefits.
I can’t help but ask, “Why?” (It’s actually a bit more like, “What the actual f**k?”)
Why is it so hard for some brands and retailers—especially those exclusive to women—to understand their responsibility to contribute to the dialogue around women’s rights? For lagging brands, their product is not designed to empower the women who wear it, but instead to satisfy the eyes the company’s white, male, middle-aged stakeholders. There is no place in 2018 for this sad, outdated and backward projection of what “sexy” looks like.
Intimate apparel brands have long been under scrutiny for selling sex in their ad campaigns. The contrast between brands like Victoria’s Secret and La Perla are stark. Sure, Victoria’s Secret is mainstream brand and La Perla is a luxury brand, but they both design intimate apparel for women. The message of inclusivity and empowerment for women should be consistent, regardless of their socio-economic status. Victoria’s Secret describes themselves as “the iconic lingerie brand featuring celebrated supermodels and a world-famous runway show” and “quite simply the sexiest brand in the world.” In contrast, La Perla considers themselves “a historic brand [that] can adapt, innovate and transform in the face of competition and the obstacles that affect the societies we live in. By wearing our core values on our sleeves, of female empowerment, and obsession for the finest quality, and the need for intelligent design, we have retained our integrity and held onto a loyal, ever-increasing base of clients and friends.” These branding communications are like night and day.
Leading the change, lifting and celebrating women, are designers like Mara Hoffman. Known for her sustainable swimwear and apparel, Hoffman uses models with stretch marks in a variety of proportions and skin colours. Modcloth and Aerie celebrate women of all shapes and shades and vowed—years ago—not to alter or airbrush the models they photograph. Ann Taylor works tirelessly to empower their customer and speak out for equality. ASOS is also outspoken about inclusion in their business, refusing to exploit body insecurity for a profit.
Old school companies, however, maintain that “the customer is always right,” preying on teens and young adults who are particularly vulnerable to the influence of unattainable, airbrushed body images in advertising. Today’s leaders, however, help lift and guide their consumer base. They understand the importance of their messaging and how much it matters to the long-term health of society.
In addition to women’s brands’ advertising and image, parental leave benefits are abysmal in the United States. In fact, the U.S. is one of only 3 countries where companies are not required to offer any paid maternity leave. They must offer 12 weeks of unpaid time off, but many choose not to take it because they cannot afford to go so long without a paycheck. Leading the pack in terms of paid time off are tech giants and banks. The apparel industry, comprised primarily of women, sits at the bottom of the ranks in paid weeks of parental leave. Because paid leave is not mandated by the government, each company is able to establish what they think is fair. How can an industry whose workers and consumers are mostly women be so blindingly sexist? The good news is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and believe you me, women are squeaking. In fact, men are squeaking, too. New parents deserve time to bond with their newborn and fashion seems to be an industry that is behind in understanding that.
Women want to be respected, comfortable and beautiful inside and out. We are redefining “sexy” and it doesn’t involve baring all or being told how to be sexy. In 2018, sexy means is feeling good in our own skin, standing up for our rights and demanding to be heard. Strong is the new Black.
Celebrate with us today to mark 2018’s International Women’s Day! How do you think your brand is meeting the challenges of this tide-changing conversation or how are you looking at diversity and equal pay within your teams and companies? Who do you get inspired by to change the way things are? We’d love to hear from you. Please share this article if you’ve enjoyed it and why not subscribe to our newsletter? For more inspiration why not read more about our mission at RangeRoom or more about sustainability and current crucial conversations.