“Just Let Me Buy Undies in Peace!” Why I’m Annoyed at Victoria’s Secret and the Woke-Washing of Irrelevant Brands (and the Fashion Industry in General)

Wokeness, says Kelly Bertrand, is not a marketing strategy. Why brands need to be better and leave our consciences alone, unless they’re in it for the right reasons.


Can we just not let a bra be a bra?

It was a weird question I asked myself as I saw the news Victoria’s Secret had FINALLY figured out women no longer give a damn about impossibly perfect, diamond-studded supermodels prancing down a runway, and instead performed a drastic 180-degree realignment of their advertising and marketing strategy. (Don’t forget the whole Jeffrey Epstein fake-modelling-casting grossness or their former CEO Ed Razek’s slew of sexual assault/harrasment cases, and all of his gross comments about transgender and plus-sized women. Gah.)

Now, the once domineering lingerie brand has said goodbye to its angels, replacing them with something called the ‘VS Collective’, a group of admittedly remarkable women such as US soccer star and activist Megan Rapinoe. They were photographed not in underwear, but in casual wear, championing the brand’s new strategy as they announced a new podcast series, to be hosted by Bollywood turned Hollywood star Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, who possesses not a shred of journalistic experience.

I’m all for brands having a purpose and mission. When they mean it.

victorias secret fashion show GIF by Mashable
Yup that’s exactly what I look like in Victoria’s Secret

Here’s my issue, before you think I’m callous and out of touch. It’s fake. It’s disingenuous. And it’s overwhelming.

On any given day, you and I are bombarded with ‘missions’. There’s nothing that a brand loves more than to harp on about their eco credentials. Their sustainability. Their efforts to help those in third world countries. How they’re so ‘inclusive’.

Guilt-inducing and heartbreaking stories that yes, absolutely, need to be heard.

But when it’s all you hear, day in and day out, it’s tiring. And I don’t want to be bitter and cynical when I hear these stories – but I want to hear them from organisations and brands who ACTUALLY believe in fixing problems and doing good, not those simply woke-washing their shitty histories and dubious morals and systems try to cover up their misdeeds, shortcomings and failures by slapping a woke sticker over their top line.

“Yeah, we might produce all this stuff in a Chinese sweatshop, but here’s an Instagram post on inclusivity! “

“Oh, we TOTALLY took advantage of women’s insecurities and peddled them a dream they could never achieve, but LOOK – a podcast series!”

Can I not just buy undies without hearing about the plight of people and the planet, because by the time I’ve had two wines at night and think that purchasing a matching lace set of sexy underwear will do wonders for my confidence (IT NEVER DOES), I’ve heard it from at least 20 other organisations.

It’s exhausting being a good consumer, and like you, I try my best. Is your coffee fair trade? Are your eggs free range? Have you supported local enough this month? Can you afford to spend double on essential items from a small, family-owned shop, or do you have to go to the big chain store down the road? And are you sure that the T-Shirt you’re wearing was from a tracible supplier? I don’t get it right all the time, but I don’t understand how anyone can. But, they’re all small efforts I try to do to do my bit, because they are important.

But the fashion industry is not a friendly place for women, despite the large number of female leaders and influential muses. I’ll never forget what it was like to work alongside high fashion magazines in my former life as a weekly mag writer. On one occasion, I heard a fashion editor scoff and proclaim her distain for anyone who had the nerve to shop at H&M – fast fashion, she derided, was trash.

Fashion Style GIF

And yeah, the waste in the fashion world is huge, sure and there are issues that need to be sorted. But the fact remains that 95% of the women who worked in our building couldn’t afford the lovely piece of designer clothing she had wrapped around her tiny figure – and I’m willing to bet neither could she without the huge media discounts and freebies. No, we had to make do with whatever chain stores produced every year because, you know, clothes are kind of non-negotiable and it’s nice to be warm. And that’s even before we get into the plus-sized issue, which is next to impossible.

I think it’s different when a brand is founded on amazing values and have always stood for something good – take, for example, local designer Maggie Marilyn, who from the beginning built her business on protecting the natural world and has always ensured that empowerment and environment were at the forefront of everything she does. I’m happy to be inspired by her ethos and journey because I know it’s real – not a marketing ploy.

My point is, when it comes to influencing my thoughts on the big issues, I want these ‘missions’ to come from those who know, and who matter. Why on earth does a brand like Victoria’s Secret have the temerity to think that they, of all people, can now lecture women on inclusivity and empowerment, when they spent decades actively trying to erode it?

All I need from an undie company is a photo of someone who looks vaguely like me, modelling the undies I want to buy, so I can figure out if they’ll look vaguely good on me so I have a shred more confidence when I look at my half-naked self in the mirror.

Is that selfish? Maybe. But, like everyone, I only have capacity to care for so much – and I want to save that caring for organisations, companies and brands that are legitimate in their missions.

In 2021, most consumers expect solid eco practices and sustainability. It no longer makes you ‘special’ if you and your company doing right by the planet. It makes you not an arsehole. Not stuffing the planet, or abusing people, should be inherent – not your marketing strategy.

So, I ask again – can we just sometimes let a bra be a bra?

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