When launching a marketing campaign, you must be careful about what you say—and who says it.
That’s the lesson most recently learned by clothing retailer Revolve, which saw a storm of online criticism and a rash of negative headlines in response to images of a thin model wearing a sweatshirt bearing a “fat shaming” expression.
A controversial sweatshirt reading, “Being fat is not beautiful, it’s an excuse,” is no longer for sale, following days of backlash and public outcry. The product, sold by Los Angeles-based retailer Revolve and part of a collaboration collection by brand LPA and others such as Lena Dunham, was pulled from Revolve’s site on Thursday.
Plus-size model Tess Holliday tweeted an image of the product, which has now been pulled from Revolve’s store.
— Tess Holliday 🥀 (@Tess_Holliday) September 12, 2018
Hello Giggles reported:
The sweatshirt was designed by Pia Arrobio, who collaborated with actress and writer Lena Dunham, as well as Emily Ratajkowski, Cara Delevingne, Suki Waterhouse, and Paloma Elsesser, to create a line of slogan sweatshirts meant to bring attention to cyberbullying. Each sweatshirt was supposed to feature a hateful or negative comment that has actually been directed at each participating celebrity.
But with literally zero context, the piece just looked like an offensive disaster.
As outrage grew, Dunham issued a statement on Instagram:
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For months I’ve been working on a collaboration with my friend Pia’s company LPA through parent company @revolve – sweatshirts that highlight quotes from prominent women who have experienced internet trolling & abuse. This is a cause very close to my heart and the proceeds were meant to benefit charities that help young women by empowering them to express themselves through writing and art. Without consulting me or any of the women involved, @revolve presented the sweatshirts on thin white women, never thinking about the fact that difference and individuality is what gets you punished on the Internet, or that lack of diversity in representation is a huge part of the problem (in fact, the problem itself.) As a result, I cannot support this collaboration or lend my name to it in any way. This isn’t meant to shame Pia or the great work she’s done with LPA. I am deeply disappointed in @revolve’s handling of a sensitive topic and a collaboration rooted in reclaiming the words of internet trolls to celebrate the beauty in diversity and bodies and experiences that aren’t the industry norm. *** I’d like to especially extend my love and support to @palomija, whose quote was the first to be promoted and mangled. She’s a hero of mine. Like me, she gave her quote in good faith and shared her vulnerability in order to support arts education and to spread her message of empowerment, and she wasn’t consulted in the marketing. Not an ounce of negativity should be sent her way. *** My only goal on this planet is to empower women through art and dialogue. I’m grateful to every woman who shared a quote and so disappointed that our words were not honored. As a result, I will be making a donation to the charity of every woman’s choice who was wronged with me and I hope that @revolve will join me with a contribution of their own. *** P.S. This Rubens painting makes me happy because it’s about women joining in love, but he didn’t recognize diversity at all- he just loved curvy butts. Problematic fave.
In her statement, Dunham said:
Without consulting me or any of the women involved, @revolve presented the sweatshirts on thin white women, never thinking about the fact that difference and individuality is what gets you punished on the Internet, or that lack of diversity in representation is a huge part of the problem (in fact, the problem itself.) As a result, I cannot support this collaboration or lend my name to it in any way.
Dunham pledged to donate to charities of choice for those affected by the incident, calling for Revolve to follow her lead. She later published an Instagram post of herself without any clothes, announcing that she wanted to work only with inclusive clothing brands.
“I’d rather go naked than promote exclusivity,” Dunham wrote.
On Friday, Revolve apologized on Instagram:
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In its apology, Revolve said:
The intention was not to promote or endorse these hateful words, but instead to empower all women by making them understand that even the world’s most beautiful and successful women have been subject to hateful messages from internet bullies. While it was difficult to make out in the photograph that went viral, each shirt said in small text below the hateful quote, “as said to Paloma,” “as said to Lena,” and as said to the other three celebrities who participated in the campaign.
And through a horrible oversight on our part, the hateful comment shaming Paloma for her weight was not shot on an appropriate model, and we are horrified and incredibly sorry that we made this mistake.
Our launch did not go according to plan, and we take full responsibility.
Revolve also said it would donate $20,000 to Girls Write Now—the nonprofit organization that was supposed to benefit from the collaboration from the beginning.
However, some social media users continued to criticize the retailer, claiming that Revolve apologized only after the backlash grew too much for it to ignore.
Holliday tweeted that the crisis should remind brand managers to be aware of the models they use to promote particular items or fashion lines:
I hope this is a lesson for brands that if you are going to launch merch intended to break down stereotypes in regards to “fat” bodies, you need to use a VISIBLY plus size model & have size inclusive sizes. You can stop at XL (which is prob a junior plus), you have to do better.
— Tess Holliday 🥀 (@Tess_Holliday) September 13, 2018
However, one might wonder whether backlash still would have occurred over the sensitive message and campaign, even using plus-size models.
What do you think? How would you have launched this effort or one with similarly controversial messages?