This year will officially mark six years since Aerie debuted its #AerieREAL campaign, a groundbreaking series which swore off the then-standard photo retouching in favor of images of "real" women. Not only did it turn business around for parent company American Eagle, but it also revolutionized the lingerie industry, opening the doors for new brands — ranging anywhere from indie startups to the Rihanna-led Savage x Fenty ready — to take a big bite out of Victoria's Secret's market share with their messaging of female empowerment and body positivity.
It also single-handedly launched the career of supermodel Iskra Lawrence, and since naming her the brand's first #AerieREAL Role Model in 2016, Aerie has brought on a whole slew of inspiring women, famous and not, for its campaigns, like Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, actor Yara Shahidi, poet Cleo Wade and YouTuber Molly Burke. This ever-growing, diverse cast reflected the models used on the brand's site, featuring body hair, colostomy bags, insulin pumps and more. It became Aerie's goal for every one of its customers to see themselves in every part of the brand.
"It's not just about putting marketing out there, it's about believing it, and that's what I think we do really well," Global Brand President Jennifer Foyle told Fashionista last year. "There's not a day without tears, some happy, some emotional, but we all really feel it and believe it."
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Now, that message has begun to resonate with would-be Role Models, the kind of celebrities and activists Aerie seeks out to be both faces of the brand and collaborators. If you have a message to share, Aerie offers a big platform with a built-in following — and Hollywood is starting to take notice.
"I remember seeing the campaign last year with Jameela [Jamil] and Samira [Wiley]," recalls Beanie Feldstein. "I was so in love with what they did, and so when I got the email I was like, 'I know exactly that campaign and I am so honored that they would even think of me.'"
Feldstein joins the impressive roster of #AerieREAL Role Models for 2020, which includes fellow actors Hari Nef, Lana Condor and Ali Stroker, as well as a group of activists: Manuela Barón, a sustainability activist; Tiff McFierce, DJ and wellness advocate; Keiana Cave, scientist and CEO; and Dre Thomas, founder of Smile on Me. They join Role Model mainstays like Raisman, Burke, Paralympic athlete Brenna Huckaby and entrepreneur Jenna Kutcher.
Lawrence, of course, serves as a kind of elder statesman for the brand, helping newbies overcome stage fright on set and making sure the Role Models have the chance to bond. "I definitely want to be like the glue that connects the whole Aerie family," she explains. "I feel very grateful to be in a position to be like, 'This is why you're here and what you're bringing to the table.'" Part of that pep talk includes telling newcomers that Aerie wants to learn as much from them and contribute to their causes as much as possible, something which was appealing to Nef.
"They have been really receptive every step of the way to my ideas for collaboration. They're not trying to fit me into a mold as a collaborator. They're allowing me to lead the way and just giving me resources and a platform to approach this mission the way I see fit," she says. "Even just on the basic level of change-making, any fashion brand who is going to allow me in their branded video to say, 'I want to see universal health care in 2020 and see a pathway forged to a living wage for all, which we don't have yet,' anyone who's going to rock with me on that wavelength, I'm excited to work with."
It's no wonder, then, that a contract as an #AerieREAL Role Model has become so desirable for a caliber of celebrity who might otherwise hold out for a blue-chip luxury company. But being a Role Model doesn't just have an impact on fans of the Role Models and the brand; it can also change the Role Models themselves. When Raisman first signed on with Aerie in 2018, she was fresh off of coming forward with sexual assault allegations against Larry Nassar, her former Olympic team physician. It was, understandably, quite a raw time for her. Through her work with Aerie and interaction with followers, she explains, she learned how to be more open and more comfortable again.
"I feel like a different person from the first Role Model shoot," Raisman says. "It was maybe a month or two after I came forward publicly for the first time about everything, so I was feeling vulnerable and pretty uncomfortable and nervous, and everyone on set was so amazing. I've learned how to connect with people since then, and to be able to trust people and to be able to have fun."
Meet all the 2020 Aerie Real Role Models and hear about their experiences shooting the campaign in the gallery below: