how fashion brands are redefining the ‘ideal woman’


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In the entertainment industry, they say never work with children and pets. But there’s nothing about photographers, architects or female footballers.

Spurred by a vocal and increasingly sceptical customer base, more fashion brands are using “real people” in their advertising.

In a campaign launching on Monday, Sportsgirl has enlisted four women who play in the AFLW instead of traditional models.

Nicola Barr and Louise Stephanson, of the GWS Giants, Carlton’s Daisy Vescio, and Kaitlyn Ashmore of the Brisbane Lions star in the campaign, which features the women having fun together.

Barr said the experience gave her “a newfound respect for models”.

“I think I’ll be sticking to footy, but shooting with the crew and the girls was a lot of fun,” she said.

Both as a semi-professional sportsperson and a consumer, she supports the use of real people in advertising.

“When a brand uses ‘real’ people it stands out to me because I don’t feel like I have to be a ‘model’ as such to be wearing what they are promoting,” she said.

Sportsgirl’s strategic brand manager, Anna Stevens, said the customers were demanding to see talent that “really reflects our girls’ lives”.

“They’re paving the way for young girls to achieve things not just in sport but to go for your dreams,” Ms Stevens said.

Ms Stevens said the fact Sportsgirl had supported emerging talent since its inception in 1948 made the use of “real” models authentic for the brand.

“It”s not like we have just suddenly switched what we do. We haven’t been associated with women in sport before but we have worked with emerging talent,” she said.

“Customers want brands to be honest and real. Big slick expensive campaigns – it is not really what resonates with customers.”

Since Dove’s game-changing “real beauty” campaign in 2004, brands – internationally and in Australia – had been chasing the winning formula of authenticity and aspiration, said Lauren Gurrieri, a senior lecturer in marketing at RMIT University.

“People are increasingly getting frustrated with representations in advertising that are overly idealised and stylised,” she said.

But using real people isn’t without its risks. Dr Gurrieri said Dove received some criticism for its campaign for trying to redefine the world “real”.

“What does ‘real’ mean? … A woman who’s a size 12 isn’t any more real than a woman who is a 14 or 6.”

She says Kmart’s use of children with Down syndrome in its campaigns without any huge fanfare was a good example of using real people in advertising.

A spokeswoman for Kmart said inclusion was a key focus in its advertising, “no matter a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability, appearance or attitude”.

Other brands to use non-models in their campaigns include New Zealand designer Karen Walker, who recently turned the cameras on her staff, and Trenery, which is part of the Country Road Group.

Working with non-models did take more time but brands needed to be willing to invest, said Trenery’s head of design, Jane Grimme.

“The fact we use real people gives customers chance to see people they can aspire to be or relate to,” she said.

“There’s a little bit of a move away from traditional models. People are pleasantly surprised when they see it. We see the engagement with social media, we see the comments … If you look at Australia, it’s something that’s almost becoming business as usual.”

She said the brand had received some negative feedback for “trying too hard” but such complaints were in a small minority.

Walker said she would much rather use someone in a campaign who has a story to tell.

“Do they juggle, do they have a talent? We want to work with people who have a talent, not just taking a selfie from the right angle,” she said.

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