BUSINESS
11/23/2018 12:04 EST | Updated 11/23/2018 12:26 EST

Has Victoria's Secret Lost Its Relevance? Canadian Retailers Weigh In.

"I think the way they’ve positioned themselves is out of tune now with the marketplace."

Victoria's Secret Angels pose on the runway during the 2018 fashion show at Pier 94 in New York on Nov. 8, 2018.
The Canadian Press
Victoria's Secret Angels pose on the runway during the 2018 fashion show at Pier 94 in New York on Nov. 8, 2018.

Victoria's Secret has been in the news a lot lately, and many are questioning whether rumours of the lingerie brand's decline are greatly exaggerated.

The company has faced dozens of store closures, declining revenues and the departure of CEO Jan Singer last week.

Its chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, also apologized earlier this month for comments he made to Vogue about excluding transgender and plus-size models from the company's annual fashion show, saying they would spoil "the fantasy."

Many media outlets in the business and fashion worlds have been discussing the woes of Victoria's Secret, which is leading the way in losses for parent company L Brands.

Watch: Victoria's Secret CEO steps down amid backlash for lack of diversity. Story continues below.

Bruce Winder, a retail expert and co-founder of the Retail Advisors' Network, told HuffPost Canada the events of the last several weeks were "a major blow" for Victoria's Secret.

"I think the way they've positioned themselves is out of tune now with the marketplace," Winder said.

"They keep refusing to look at plus size garments. People have phoned them over the years and said, 'Hey, can we add a plus size?' They've supposedly just said, 'No, we're not interested at this time.'"

Women are starting to expect to see better representation, so when they don't, it's frustrating.Joanna Griffiths, Knix

Joanna Griffiths is the co-founder and CEO of Canadian company Knix, which makes wireless bras and seamless underwear. She said before she started the company, her research showed women were "really craving a brand that was representative of them."

The company's ads show women in an array of body shapes and sizes, sometimes with stretch marks and cellulite clearly visible. Griffiths said Knix has been featuring its own customers in ads since 2013, ranging in age from 21 to 67, and from sizes 0 to 22.

"Women are starting to expect to see better representation, so when they don't, it's frustrating," she told HuffPost Canada.

Griffiths said the lingerie industry was built on individual brands targeting women based on stereotypes, like Victoria's Secret viewing and targeting women as "sex bots."

"It was built on this idea that women are all these different personas, and really the way that we view women is that we're strong, confident, complex beings — like we're mothers, we're daughters, and best friends, and career-women and athletes, and everything all at the same time."

Griffiths said when a larger retailer in any industry isn't adapting to what customers want, it creates a huge opportunity for newer entrants to come in and try to grab some of that market share.

There are other retailers in the lingerie market that don't believe selling sex is the way to go. John Izzo, vice-president of design and product development at Canadian retailer La Vie en Rose, said the company focuses a lot more on comfort.

"Of course the Canadian woman wants to be sexy as well, but it's important that she's comfortable. And when you're comfortable, you feel good about yourself."

Izzo said over the last 23 years, La vie en Rose has taken some time off to find its identity, and found success with campaigns that focused more on self-love and self-appreciation, and that featured women with more natural makeup and hair looks, "rather than full of eyelashes and lip gloss and overblown hair."

Izzo said the company is expanding its product sizing next year to accommodate larger sizes. He said La Vie en Rose's campaigns already feature diverse women of different body types.

Winder believes Victoria's Secret has lost its relevance because the company has refused to adapt to the times. Plus-sized people, transgender people and people with physical disabilities are all "part of the multifaceted definition of beautiful," he said.

"Beautiful is still a [Victoria's Secret] angel, but it's also everyone else who's not an angel."

Winder said the concept of "sexy" has also changed.

"It used to be sort of one-dimensional, where it's a bunch of six-foot white girls who were 100 pounds. That was sort of how Victoria's Secret defined sexy. And now sexy's defined differently."

Winder said there's still time for the brand to embrace change. But given the public response to celebrities like Rihanna, who recently featured models of all shapes and sizes in her Savage X Fenty lingerie fashion show, he said, "they'd better do something now."

"I think customers would forgive them, as long as they change."

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