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Embracing Diversity for Brand Success, Both In Front of and Behind the Camera

Three women of diverse body types and ethnicities pose confidently in light blue activewear, illustrating body positivity and inclusivity.

Revitalize your brand with diverse model casting and discover how to unleash growth through inclusivity in model selection and production team diversity

Note: This article was originally published on The Line Studios LinkedIn Newsletter page. We have reposted it here to share its valuable insights with our audience. We respect copyright laws and have obtained permission to republish this content.

In today’s e-commerce landscape, the value of diversity in marketing imagery cannot be overstated. Recent insights from Nielsen’s 2023 ‘The Push for Change’ report reveal an evolving consumer environment. It highlights that 42% of American adults are more likely to purchase from brands that effectively represent them in campaigns through diverse model casting.

Our article explores how embracing diversity in model casting and inclusive teams provides a strategic edge. It’s not just about moving merchandise. It’s about resonating deeply with consumers and impacting communities, hearts, minds, and fashion-forward souls.

Not Just a Buzzword: Inclusivity is a Powerful Tool for Brand Growth

The fashion industry’s journey towards diverse model casting is ongoing. At The Line Studios, we’re not just observers but active participants in this evolution. Our mission is twofold: helping brands flourish and championing inclusive representation. Why? Because diversity in casting is more than just an aesthetic choice—it’s about crafting stories that connect and validate.

Stetts Model Management, a leading model agency based in NYC,  is well-known in the industry for its inclusive and model-friendly approach.  Ashley Stetts Gerson, its founder, started to see a significant shift around 2020 towards more diverse model casting. “I think that there is a realization now that inclusion means all races, and we are seeing brands truly booking everyone – adaptive, non-binary, trans, and all body types. We were always an inclusive agency, so we were ready for this sudden demand (around 2020-2021), but you are seeing even the larger more traditional agencies catering to this call and ensuring their boards have diversity they never would have had 10 years ago.” 

Grateful acknowledgment from a focus group participant about the refreshing and normalizing impact of seeing diverse model casting in advertising.

Imagery is pivotal; it’s the unspoken dialect of your brand, conveying messages even before words are read. If brands choose not to represent a range of diversity in their imagery,  they risk losing relevance and appeal. Consider Google’s study, which found that 64% of consumers took action after viewing ads they perceived as diverse or inclusive. This underscores the undeniable impact of engaging a broad spectrum of audiences.

The Profitable Truth Behind Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

Embracing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in model casting isn’t just the right decision; it’s a profitable one too. Diversity ensures representation across various identities including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, age, and body type. Equity provides fair treatment and opportunity for all models. Inclusion creates an environment where everyone is truly welcomed and valued. 

Collage of diverse model casting in e-commerce, featuring a variety of models in inclusive fashion and beauty campaigns
Leading brands showcase diversity and inclusion through empowering and varied model representation. Image Sources: Dove, Glossier, Aerie, Fenty Beauty, Nike, SKIMS and Thinx.

Brands like Thinx, Glossier, SKIMS, Nike, Fenty, Dove, Aerie, and numerous others have experienced notable business growth, in part attributable to their commitment to inclusive and diverse model casting. This trend illustrates that incorporating DEI in model casting not only broadens brand appeal but also enhances business performance and elevates public perception.

Positive feedback on diverse model casting from a focus group participant, praising the representation of different body types.

Take Thinx, for example, who have seen very positive reactions from their community, particularly for their representation of diverse body types and so-called ‘imperfections’, especially in plus-size model casting, as explained by Khira Goins-Paxton, Senior Creative Producer at Thinx. 

This sentiment is echoed in focus group feedback: “I absolutely love that you have so many different bodies represented in the photos. There is not one type of body and your company recognizing that is a truly special and wonderful thing.” and “Thank you for showing someone that looks like me and is just being normal. I hardly ever see that in advertising. It’s refreshing.” 

In addition to hearing about the success of diversity from brands like Thinx, Kantar’s studies and the aforementioned Neilson studies corroborate this trend, revealing that consumers are increasingly inclined to support brands that feature diverse, relatable models. These models are more than aesthetically pleasing; they are the embodiment of our world’s rich and varied beauty. This paradigm shift isn’t just about representation; it’s about creating a connection and a sense of belonging that consumers feel in their hearts, as well as their minds. 

At The Line Studios, we’re proud to produce imagery featuring diverse models for a wide range of brands, including NUUDS, Negative Underwear, and Stoney Clover Lane. These efforts not only reflect our own commitment to DEI but also tap into a powerful growth driver by aligning our clients with the evolving expectations of a global audience.

Broadening the Beauty Standard

Think back to the early 2010s. Remember those high-gloss ads featuring models in a seemingly unattainable world of beauty prompted collective skepticism? This skepticism wasn’t unfounded. The models were invariably tall, white, and skinny–a wholly inaccurate reflection of the audience consuming the ads and media in which they featured. This homogenized portrayal did not resonate with the diverse tapestry of society, leading to a growing disconnect between the imagery and the people expected to buy into the brands’ promises.

Array of magazine covers highlighting high fashion and celebrity culture, contrasting with the inclusive approach of diverse model casting.
Early 2000s fashion glossies reflect a narrow beauty ideal, sparking a dialogue on the need for wider representation in the industry. Image Sources: Marie Claire, GQ, Vogue, Vanity Fair

During this era, voices advocating for diversity and inclusion began to resonate on social media, highlighting the flaws in rigid beauty standards. Platforms like Instagram and YouTube became stages for individuals from all walks of life to showcase and review a variety of products. For forward-thinking brands, this offered a treasure trove of consumer insights – something they could scarcely have imagined a decade and a half earlier.

“I think that it was impossible for brands to ignore the fact that the US wanted to see what America actually looks like today reflected in the advertising by brands. People were starting to see through the brand’s use of a “token” black or Asian model and wanted a real commitment of brands to be inclusive…” Stetts Gerson says. 

Now, we’re witnessing a significant shift. Numerous brands are going beyond merely  acknowledging the obsolescence of traditional beauty standards to actively challenging them–reshaping perceptions one photoshoot at a time.  By embracing diverse model casting and hiring people who represent real customers, brands build trust with their audience, fostering a sense of inclusion rather than alienation.  This approach not only cultivates customer loyalty but also minimizes returns and amplifies satisfaction. A study by Adobe reveals that 61% of Americans consider diversity in advertising to be crucial. This shift in consumer preference is redrawing industry benchmarks, affirming the beauty in diversity.

Widening Perspectives Behind The Lens: The Impact of Diversity in Production Teams

Brands who truly want to embrace diversity should also be looking at the make-up (no pun intended) of the crew who are producing their marketing and e-commerce imagery. 

While the model features front and center as far as consumers are concerned, they represent only one slice of the overall production pie. The crew – photographers, stylists, hair and make-up artists – play a vital role in expanding viewpoints in marketing visuals. Their diverse perspectives create stories that resonate with a broader audience.

In this endeavor, brands and creative studios must make an active decision in their recruitment processes. Companies such as Hire Black Female Creatives offer platforms to connect with talented professionals. This helps diversify the team while enriching the creative process with unique perspectives and experiences.

When a stylist assembles a look, they are pulling from various cultural references in their world and translating them into a relatable and inspiring outfit or composition. As the photographer frames her shot and interacts with the model, she’s tapping into the wealth of experiences and knowledge that she’s gained from past shoots and life experiences. When these totally different and completely unique perspectives come together, they can bring to life a fresh and relatable story that a more homogenous crew might never achieve. 

behind-the-scenes at a photo studio showcasing diverse model casting, with professional lighting equipment and a camera set up for a fashion shoot.
Behind the Lens: The Line Studios celebrates diversity, showcasing the vibrant, talented team that brings every shoot to life.

Cost-Effective Strategies for Diverse Model Casting In Your E-Commerce Imagery

While embracing diversity in e-commerce imagery is an aspirational goal for many brands, logistical and budgetary constraints often impede its realization. The perceived expense of using multiple models for various body types is a significant deterrent. Yet, considering the long-term ROI, a more inclusive strategy can be highly beneficial. As we’ve seen, brands like Thinx have experienced positive customer feedback and increased sales by featuring models of diverse sizes and abilities. As with most things, the key lies in strategic planning – efficient shooting schedules and partnerships with inclusive agencies can enable brands to adopt a diverse model casting approach without excessive financial strain.

Practical Steps Towards More Diverse Model Casting

To begin integrating more diversity into your model casting, consider these actionable steps:

  • Expand Sample Sizes: Collaborate with internal teams to increase the range of sample sizes available, or utilize evergreen products in a wider array of sizes.
  • Partner with Inclusive Agencies: Forge relationships with agencies committed to diversity, ensuring a casting process that reflects the entire spectrum of potential customers.
  • Efficient Shooting Schedules: Optimize shooting schedules, like arranging half-day shoots for models, to represent a broader array of individuals within budgetary constraints.

Embracing Diversity as a Business Imperative: Crafting a More Inclusive Future

In a world where diversity is no longer a preference but a necessity, brands are coming to a vital realization: to truly connect with their customers, they must embody relatability and inclusivity. This sentiment is echoed by Stetts Gerson, who emphasizes, “I think that diversity is here to stay, and brands are realizing that to really reach their customers they need to be relatable and communicate that their brand is not for just one kind of person. We have seen the backlash when a brand like Lululemon has a founder making comments that they don’t want to be ‘everything to everybody’ — that’s actually exactly what brands need to be. Society has spoken and will boycott brands that do not prove to have values that align with the inclusion that has been hard fought for.”

At The Line Studios, our ethos extends beyond mere belief in the transformative power of authentically representational media; we are at the forefront, actively championing it. We understand and embrace the profound impact that fostering diversity can have on both your brand’s success and the broader societal landscape. However, understanding alone is not sufficient; what’s imperative is action.

We invite you, the forward-thinking brands, agencies, and creatives, to join us in a movement that goes beyond mere words. It’s a journey of meaningful, tangible change. Diversity in front of and behind the camera isn’t just a trend; it’s a reflection of the world we live in. By taking these steps, you’re not only enhancing your brand’s relevance and appeal; you’re contributing to a more inclusive and authentic world.

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