I was surprised when I realized what I was feeling: warm fuzzies at an Instagram post because a swimsuit brand was displaying their garments on a wide range of body types. It didn’t feel like a publicity stunt, like Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, or like they were showing one token fat girl amongst traditionally thin models (hello, Vogue cover). It felt like they were truly proud of their swimwear in size XS, XL and every size in between.
Scrolling through their Instagram feed, I saw more photos of women wearing all of the sizes on offer. Sometimes they were all together, a row of smiling women at the beach. Sometimes it was one woman on her own, given the space to shine.
Body diversity is ethical
If part of your business’s mission is to be an ethical brand, you have probably thought a lot about how the garments are made. You are proud of your solar-powered factory; your fairly paid workers; using organic or recycled materials; the 1% of sales you donate to a worthy cause.
But have you considered the ethics of the images that represent your brand? Or the implications for the various people whose bodies you want to wear your clothes? Or for the people whose bodies won’t fit into your clothes?
An article came out a few months ago arguing that if you care about the ethics of fashion, you need to start fighting for stores to offer plus sizes. There are also several articles that address why that’s really hard for businesses, especially small ones, especially ones in the ethical fashion niche. But that doesn’t mean that body diversity and inclusivity is not worth striving for.
Body diversity is good for business
I am fortunate to have a body that fits into standard clothing sizes, but I am short and curvy – nowhere near the tall lanky body type on which clothes are most often displayed. When I’m shopping online and I see a garment only on a body type that is nowhere near my own it is hard to translate it into my own size. But when I see different body types, I can more easily imagine what it will look like on me – and that makes me more confident to hit BUY.
Here are a few examples of how fashion businesses are integrating body diversity into their visual branding.
The brand from my story at the top of this post is Minnow Bathers, a made-in-Canada swimwear line. While their website almost exclusively shows thin models, their Instagram account is a delightful mix of body types and skin tones. Especially in the more recent photos, they are making an effort to reflect their whole audience.
Deer & Doe
The sewing world is ahead of the pack in terms of body diversity, which I noticed when I used to create slow fashion guides. Deer & Doe does a particularly good job of it.
As soon as you land on the website of Deer & Doe sewing patterns, two women of distinctly different sizes greet you. Throughout the product photos are thin women, fat women, pear-shaped women (okay, maybe not plural, but still), reflecting Deer & Doe’s audience. Integrating these photos throughout their website acknowledges that women come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and Deer & Doe is able and happy to clothe them all.
Side note: I’d also like to give a shout out to Colette Patterns for their promo photos for their latest dress pattern.
Hackwith Design House
Hackwith Design House has made magic happen on some of their swimsuit product pages. The default size is XS, but watch what happens when you change the size to M or up: the product photos change! Now you see a model who actually wears your size!
I discovered this piece of brilliance while my friend Emily was shopping for a new swimsuit. She says, “I found it easier to picture myself in a swimsuit seeing someone shaped like me wearing it. It also made me happy to see people who looked like me modelling things.” And guess what! Emily bought a swimsuit from Hackwith!
You don’t need to have a different model for each size, but having product photos taken of your garments on at least two differently-sized bodies will give your customers a big leap of confidence right when they need it – the moment right before they (might) click BUY.
Show your customers a mirror
Whenever someone comes in contact with your brand for the first time, they will judge whether or not they can see themselves in it. This is why I – a preppy glamourpuss – will never have more than a passing personal interest in a boho-chic clothing line. It doesn’t reflect me or my life or my experiences. The same goes for more tangible things like body size, skin colour, disability, and gender expression. When people feel included in your brand, they are more likely to buy from you.
Chances are your clothing line offers a range of sizes beyond XS and S, and you probably spent time and/or money getting all of those sizes just right. So don’t hide them! Offering those sizes is an asset to your business and you have customers who want to know – not guess – what those sizes look like.
Hiring a second model might be out of your budget, but seriously consider what ways you can show a diverse range of body types. Share customer photos on social media. Or for that matter, share photos of yourself or your staff in your clothes. The more information your customers can have before making an online purchase, the more confident they will feel doing so. And that’s good for your business.