Are Thin Fashion Models Still Profitable?

Controversy in the fashion industry is not new, clearly. Nor is controversy regarding weight and body image in the fashion industry. I’ve written before on Hot For Writing regarding body image and fashion advertising – and it seems that I’m not the only one musing on the topic – from bloggers like myself, to magazine editors, to parliamentary officials, it’s obviously a hot topic.

Catwalk ModelsDespite all this discussion though, nothing ever really seems to change. For all the campaigns against airbrushing or surveys showing the effects of thin models on teenagers’ eating habits, designers still say that they make small sample sizes for economic reasons, and catwalks continue to feature very skinny models. Thin is clearly the ideal when it comes to making and selling fashion.

But could new research, published this week, challenge this ideal? A new study, conducted by Ben Barry, CEO of a modelling agency (but with a rather more academic background) surveyed over 2000 women and found that – quite simply – women are more likely to buy clothes if the models look like them. Interesting, right? It seems that skinny models could actually be bad for business…

Barry’s study researched female representation in fashion and discovered what seems to be a strong business case for fashion brands to use models that more accurately represent their target customer base. Barry stated that:

‘[The study] found that women increased their purchase intentions by more than 200 percent when the models in the mock ads were their size… Conversely, when women saw models who didn’t reflect their size, they decreased their purchase intentions by 60 percent.’

As well as looking at weight and clothing size, Barry’s study also found that there was a direct correlation between diversity, recognition and purchase intention. For example, black women were significantly more likely to purchase products advertised by black models, and older consumers increased their purchase intentions when viewing products advertised by older models.

So – does this mean that young, skinny, white models are not really profitable for fashion companies? Well, Barry’s study would seem to suggest so and, anecdotally, the success of advertising campaigns such as Dove’s real women would also seem to show this. Personally, I’m sure that the findings of the study are correct – I mean, you only have to look at the success of companies such as Pepperberry to see this – but I’m not convinced that the findings will have any significant impact on the catwalks of the world’s fashion weeks or the fashion industry as a whole.

In my mind, the high fashion ideal is too deeply ingrained for there to be any major difference made by this type of study – we only have to look at designers like Karl Lagerfeld calling average-sized women like Adele fat to see this – the high end of the fashion industry is just not in touch with – or catering for – average women. In addition, it’s pretty obvious that high fashion houses make lots of money selling to a specific target audience, catering to very thin, very wealthy women – so why would they change this?

Photograph by Francesco Rachello.

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