Proud2Bme | Memo to the Fashion Industry: Using Diverse Models Increases Your Sales

Memo to the Fashion Industry: Using Diverse Models Increases Your Sales

Ultra-thin models make us want to spend our money because we aspire to look like them--and they make good clothes hangers, right? Turns out those tired old excuses are wrong.

Designers have used that clothes hanger line forever and advertisers have long operated under the assumption that consumers spend money when we feel bad about ourselves. Hence the constant use of thin, light-skinned, "flawless" (thanks to Photoshop) models. We rarely see ourselves reflected in ads and fashion spreads, an intentional exclusion we've been told is all about turning a profit. But new research conducted by a fashion industry insider shows that diversity actually drives sales.

Ben Barry runs a modeling agency representing models of all sizes and ethnicities. He built his business on the belief that diversity in fashion is a good thing, and he set out to prove it in his doctoral thesis at Cambridge. The results of his study are published in the June issue of Elle Canada. Barry surveyed and conducted focus groups with more than 2,500 women, from ages 14-65, sizes 0-18 and representing a range of ethnicities. He created a mock ad featuring women of different sizes and ethnicities wearing the same Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. Here's how women responded to the ad:

Women increased their purchase intentions by more than 200 percent when the models in the mock ads were their size. Consumers increased their purchase intentions by over 175 percent when they saw models who reflected their age; in particular, women over the age of 35 increased their purchase intentions by 200 percent when they saw older models. When models didn’t reflect their age, consumers decreased their purchase intentions by 64 percent. Black consumers were 1.5 times more likely to purchase a product advertised by a black model.

In focus groups, women said they could better picture themselves wearing the dress when they saw it on someone who looked them: “I’d buy the dress in an instant because [the model] looks like me. I can see how this dress will hug my curves in all the right spots," said a woman in one group. Well, that makes a whole lot of sense.

Barry envisions a change in the industry that would take his research to heart:

"Imagine this: You open a fashion magazine. It is filled with stunning glossy ads from the top fashion and beauty brands. You see gorgeous clothes, dramatic hair and makeup and breathtaking photography. Starring in these ads—showcasing fashion’s glamour, artistry and creativity— are models who reflect the full panorama of women’s beauty. So, brands, I ask you this: Will you continue to use an outdated marketing model or adapt to the new consumer mindset and reap the rewards?"

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