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An open letter to Victoria’s Secret—if you must reboot swimwear, do it right

AP Photo
Let’s not waste this opportunity.
By Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

November 21, 2018

Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz
675 Sixth Ave
New York, NY 10010

Victoria’s Secret
4 Limited Parkway East
Reynoldsburg, OH 43068

Dear Victoria’s Secret,

My name is Sangeeta. I’m a bra-buying female in my mid-20s, and a reluctant member of your target demographic, the same demo that’s threatening to ditch you for one of the many hot underwear startups that no doubt have your unmentionables in a twist.

It’s no secret that Victoria’s Secret has had a tough time lately. No one cares about your fashion show, you’re shuttering stores, and your prices are in free-fall (not to mention your stock). Your CEO just quit, your former CEO is betting on a competitor, and another exec left to launch a rival bra startup.

So you’re looking for some new ideas, or at least a way to revive old ones. This week I even heard whispers that VS will reboot a sector it abandoned a few years ago: swimwear. While this may be a last-ditch effort to drag your parent company out its five-year death spiral, I see it as an opportunity. With swimwear 2.0, you can reinvent and revamp your aesthetic for the modern era. And friend to friend? That would be smart. Because you’re stuck in 1999 and everyone’s talking about it.

Remember, you’re still the dominant underwear-seller in the US. You’ve got this! Just in case, here are some tips to get you started:

Ditch the porny advertising. The whole feather-winged, stiletto-heeled “angels” thing just isn’t landing with girls and women anymore, even if men are still into it. Remember, men don’t drive your sales! While VS doubles-down on its molto-sexy, narrow definition of bombshell beauty, the rest of the market has pivoted to inclusivity and body-positivity. Aerie, your biggest competitor, jumped on this trend early: Its body-positive lingerie campaign is thriving—it plans to open up to 80 physical stores in the next several years—in a gap you left wide open.

Look to “Victoria Sport.” You did two things right with athleisure: Unlike those gel- and wire-filled push-up bras, your sports bras prioritized performance and comfort over sexiness. Second, you stopped betting so hard on ads that relied on simpering sex appeal, and showed sweaty women working out. This was a good start.

Diversity is good for business. When Rihanna debuted her lingerie line Fenty X Savage at New York Fashion Week, the show’s physically and racially diverse cast of models dominated headlines. It also stood in stark contrast to a standard Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which tend to feature slim, mostly white supermodels. Likewise, swim label Chromat has made itself into an industry sweetheart by designing for diverse body types and people. So keep your bombshells, but recognize that not everyone does, or wants to, look like them.

While you’re at it, get a spokesperson. This year’s VS show featured a pre-recorded video where heretofore mute models were trotted out to tell audience members how empowered being a VS angel made them feel. No one was buying it. Get some spokespeople—older, shorter, browner, plus-sized, whatever! Just add people to your roster who represent women of the real world, not just the runway.

Revamp the mall-boudoir vibe. Buying a bra shouldn’t feel like stepping into an American Hustle-themed fever dream. The hot pink doors, brocade wallpaper, and plush upholstery are dated and cloying. (Soaking your stores in Laffy Taffy-scented body spray is also very Hollister circa 2009. Please stop doing this).

Start making bras that fit. Your whole thing is selling a fantasy, but you know what’s not dreamy? Bras that don’t fit. You’ve been around since the 1970s, so why was ThirdLove hailed as “revolutionary” when it became the first lingerie company to offer half-cup sizing? What’s more, nearly all of your competitors offer a greater range of cup sizes, which means you’re missing a whole market of women who won’t buy your bras because their boobs didn’t get the sizing memo.

Stop saying “panties.” Trust me. Literally none of your competitors use this word anymore. They say “undies” or “underwear” because it doesn’t sound gross or dated like “panties” does. It shows your age almost as much as much as Ed Razek did when he used the word “transsexuals” in an interview with Vogue.

Speaking of Razek, you should definitely fire that guy.


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