Positive fashion: On Zalando, activist spokesmodels and profitable ethics

At The Beauty Conversation* we have been talking for a while about the shift from models and influencers to ‘activist models’, as a vehicle for brands to express their ethical values. This shift is reaching its peak now with most brands hiring outspoken role models who have a strong social media following and a passion for activism or a cause rather than standard models or It Girls as their ‘face of’.

Example: multi brand e-commerce retailer Zalando, who has hired gender nonconforming model Rain Dove (above), plus-sized model Felicity Hayward and Gurls Talk founder Adwoa Aboah for its latest ‘Free to Be’ campaign.

My first reaction was, hmmm, bandwagon jumping much? Zalando** is like the German ASOS; it doesn’t have a particular history of activism or advocating for ethical values, so it seemed a somewhat cynical ‘virtue signalling’ (aka expressing a belief just to make you look ‘woke’) move to hire three high profile activists. Like sustainability, ‘diversity’ is proving profitable right now, which explains why brands are suddenly so invested in cause marketing.

But this Rain Dove interview for Vogue Business sheds light on why bandwagon jumping doesn’t matter in this case…

“Some people just want to buy their shirts but don’t want to feel like they’re endorsing a lifestyle that they may not agree with. Right now, we need to be pushy like that to make room. As it becomes normal to incorporate different body types and aesthetics in campaigns, we won’t have to be like, “Fuck you, I’m on this billboard.” But until then, models have to be loud, and consumers have to be loud about their approval. Brands don’t mean to oppress people. They’re just trying to make money, and they don’t want to take a lot of risks; they need guaranteed sales. So it’s up to us to show them that if they work with intersectional people, it’s not a gamble — they will make money.”

Rain Dove, eloquent and educational as always. I heart them! And it does in the end make me see Zalando in a different light, as a supporter of less visible communities and individuals. The rest of the interview is well worth a read. Other brands take note.

* My beauty brand consultancy sideline. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here

**Disclosure: I have worked with Zalando in the past

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Zalando
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