When Linda Heasley joined Lane Bryant as CEO in 2013, she came forth with a clear stance about what she wanted to do — with both the plus-size retailer, and the overall plus-size landscape. Her plan was to “change the conversation” about plus-size fashion, as she stated in multiple interviews. She expressed a desire to give women in a larger size bracket access to the same fashion as everyone else, and the response has been a resounding, “finally.”
Despite significant demand — and the fact that the average American woman is a size 14 — most retailers have struggled to provide their plus-size customers with the fashion-forward options they want, including Lane Bryant, the largest plus-size retailer in the country. But since Heasley came on, the brand has started to make progress — namely through collaborations with designers like Isabel Toledo, Sophie Theallet and Lela Rose. But its biggest, loudest attempt to “change the conversation” launches Monday.
While Heasley tells us those collaborations will continue (expect the next collaborator to be announced soon), the company’s latest initiative is more about revamping its own image. Lane Bryant brought on creative agency Laird+Partners to conceptualize a spring campaign called #ImNoAngel. It kicks off with a series of print ads, shot beautifully by fashion photographer Cass Bird, and a TV commercial that debuts Monday night, all advertising Lane Bryant’s lingerie line, Cacique. It stars prominent models Ashley Graham, Marquita Pring, Candice Huffine, Victoria Lee, Justine Legault and Elly Mayday. The release of the ads coincides with a series of publicity stunts set to take place throughout New York City on Monday, including a performance by Salt & Pepa in the Flatiron district at noon. There’s also a social media angle, of course: Lane Bryant invites everyone to share a selfie with “#ImNoAngel” written in lipstick on the mirror.
If you’re wondering whether the hashtag is a reference to straight-size lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret — which has been recently criticized for its failure to offer larger sizes or show diverse body types in its advertising — well, basically, yes. “I think it’s what you want it to be,” says Heasley, coyly. “The intent is to be fun; it’s tongue in cheek.”
More importantly, the ads put the mall brand (and the plus-size category as a whole) in a more fashion-y context. Bird is known for fashion editorials in magazines like T, Paper and Vogue UK, and her campaigns for Maiyet and Warby Parker. Plus-size clothing is rarely advertised, and when it is, the images tend to be unoriginal at best, and cheesy at worst. The retailer has come a long way from this.
“We’ve been wanting to do a campaign to reintroduce Lane Bryant to a new generation of women, and to reacquaint prior clients about the direction of the brand,” says Heasley. “It’s important to come out strong. We also heard from our clients and the blogging community that Lane Bryant needs to stand tall on this.” While she says the campaign is about starting a conversation generally, she wanted to start with lingerie because she’s found that customers have a particularly emotional reaction to the category and felt it would be most effective in Lane Bryant’s efforts to “redefine sexy and notions of beauty.” Meanwhile, the term plus-size is absent from all press materials and ad copy. Why? “We believe it’s about fashion and all women deserve fashion and it's about great design," says Healey. "There are many women who are proud to say they’re plus, and women who aren’t comfortable saying that. It’s about making all women feel beautiful and sexy; they don’t want to be constrained.”
Heasley knows that women of all sizes want more fashion-forward, relevant clothing, which is important, and that's what she plans to deliver. While it will take more than a campaign and a Salt & Pepa performance to change beauty standards, the campaign should at least help to remind people to look at Lane Bryant for decent product, and that it's one of the few mass retailers responding to — and getting involved with — the plus-size debate.