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Six Years of Unretouched Photos Later, Aerie Is Still Leading the Intimates Industry

American Eagle Outfitters’s lingerie offshoot, Aerie, released its latest #AerieReal Role Models ad campaign yesterday. 

Unretouched images of Aerie spokeswomen lounging in their underwear hardly register as groundbreaking in the age of peak Instagram. But when Aerie first released campaigns with stretch marks and cellulite six years ago, it was unlike anything else in lingerie retail. Let’s revisit why


Carrying the team

Aerie was one of the first lingerie brands to defect from the “sexy and skinny sells” approach popularized by Victoria’s Secret.

It stopped digitally retouching models in 2014 and launched its #AerieReal spokesmodel program in 2016. 
Campaigns have since featured women of various body types, some with colostomy bags, wheelchairs and assistive devices, and insulin pumps. They’ve received praise from customers and retail commentators alike.

The results: Aerie’s bras are supporting American Eagle’s entire business. Aerie’s comparable sales rose 20% YoY in Q3 2019, marking 20 consecutive quarters of double-digit sales growth. Bloomberg reports American Eagle would consider spinning off Aerie into its own public company, but not before giving the brand more time to grow.

As for the rest of lingerie proper…

Brands with an “all are welcome” ethos are surging in popularity. 

Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty collection has received $70 million in total venture funding as of last August.
ThirdLove crossed $100 million in annual sales in 2018 and opened its first brick-and-mortar store last year.

Even Victoria’s Secret is changing its approach. “We think it’s important to evolve the marketing of Victoria’s Secret,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, CFO of VS parent L Brands, said in November. Following several quarters of declining sales, the retailer released its first ad with a plus-size model last year.  

My takeaway: Aerie won over women in the 16 to 30 demographic by adopting unfiltered marketing before anyone else. But the industry is catching on.