Victoria’s Secret, the well-known sleepwear and lingerie company, is changing its business model and sponsors in a push towards inclusivity. The company is doing away with its iconic VS Angels and starting a new platform called VS Collective. Seven female celebrities were chosen as representatives of the new group. U.S. national soccer player Megan Rapinoe, transgender model Valentina Sampaio, body positivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, Chinese American freestyle skier Eileen Gu, media personality Amanda de Cadenet, South Sudanese-Australian model Adut Akech, and actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas, are the seven women hoping to help change the company.
Victoria’s Secret has a history of dealing with backlash, mostly for using slender models that have been labeled as promoting “unachievable” body types. In 2019, the company stopped its annual fashion show due to public disapproval of its exclusion of models of all sizes and backgrounds. Since then, Martha Pease, VS’s chief marketing officer, led a team through extensive research to determine where the company was falling short.
After actively engaging with all types of women, Pease said: “they told us very clearly we needed to have more representation in our brand. They wanted to see different types of women who look more like them and the direction that was really clear from what they were saying is to bring a different type of woman.” The seven women chosen to represent the brand fully encompass the range of backgrounds, sizes, and identities of women Victoria’s Secret hopes to market towards moving forward.
VS Collective Goals
The seven representatives will assist with product collections as well as develop content for the brand. Amanda de Cadenat is to host a podcast with a female panel. Victoria’s Secret has also launched a global fund for women’s cancers to invest in research, support female scientists, and address racial and gender inequalities in the healthcare sector.
The company’s long-standing issues of size ranges and comfortability are also on the list of changes to be made. Sportswear and maternity clothes will be added to the product line as mannequins of all shapes and sizes are placed in stores around the country.
Unrealistic models are not the only reason Victoria’s Secret has received hate in the past. The Chinese government has forced Uyghur Muslims to work in manufacturing facilities since 2017. According to the Australian Institute of Strategic Policies, from 2017 to 2019, over 80,000 Uyghurs were sent to 27 manufacturing facilities that produce products for 83 American brands, one being Victoria’s Secret.
The factories have slave-like labor conditions and are labeled “re-education camps” by the Chinese government. Perhaps the VS Collective and its rebranding efforts will include addressing the company’s use of slave labor in China to make their products – but, so far, no information released by the company has acknowledged its involvement with these manufacturing facilities.
Slave labor is not the only unethical source Victoria’s Secret has used. Throughout the 1990s, the company bought apparel through garment manufacturer Third Generation. According to the National Institute of Justice, Third Generation contracted sewing work to Leath Correctional Facility in Greenwood, South Carolina. Victoria’s Secret eventually ended that practice in the late 90s. It is unclear how much the inmates were paid per hour, but it is safe to assume it was far from minimum wage at the time.
Many Americans have taken to social media over the last few days to address the company’s hypocrisy. The issue many women have with the company is not about its exclusivity, but rather its “overpriced” and “poor quality” merchandise made by slave-laborers.
Emily Todebush on Twitter, responding to a New York Times article on the VS makeover: “@nytimes Is part of the rebrand them paying a living wage to workers who make their garments? Because as of now, they use slave labor from people who are incarcerated.” Another Twitter asked: “@nytimes OK, but are they going to start making quality garments worthy of their exorbitant Price points? Or they just repackaging the same all crap?”
The hosts of TV show The View even had choice words for the lingerie company. Meghan McCain observed that Victoria’s Secret bras were “poorly made and crap.” Joy Behar believes the company deserves to go out of business but is glad they are heading into this “new phase.” None of The View commentators mentioned the slave or prison labor allegedly used to make their products.
The success of this cultural shift will become evident (or not) when Victoria’s Secret becomes a public company this summer. After splitting from L Brands and Bath & Body Works, the VS Collective is kicking off its solo voyage into independence and it will either sink or float with its rebranding.
In today’s cultural climate, it is not always easy to tell whether a company like Victoria’s Secret is acting upon genuine concerns about “inclusivity” or merely trying to signal its virtue and avoid the wrath of cancel culture activists.
Read more from Keelin Ferris