Posing for Aerie is not only appropriate for Rajee Aerie, who shares her last name with the lingerie brand, but it also fulfills a lifelong dream.
“I remember coming into New York City when I was a little girl, looking up at the billboards and being like, one day I want to be on that billboard,” said Aerie, an adopted child who was born in India and raised in West Virginia.
But achieving that dream also meant overcoming polio and the scars it left behind.
“I have two scars on my hips. I have scars on my legs. I have a scar on my ankle,” she told CBS News’ Michelle Miller.
She said flipping through magazines and seeing models with no imperfections made her feel like, “Well, where do I belong?”
That answer came in 2014 with the Aerie Real Campaign, an effort to abandon Photoshop. Today, global brand president Jennifer Foyle says they’re even bolder.
“Aerie Real has the opportunity to show every woman who she is, what she represents, whether she has a disability, or maybe she has a passion. What about that? Maybe she has a drive, a mission, a cause,” Foyle said. “We’d like to represent that, too. Our role models express that 100 percent.”
Aerie received thousands of video submissions from women all over the country fighting to represent the movement. Women who used to be customers are now part of the changing face of the industry. Retail analyst Marshall Cohen said marketers have caught up with the real world.
“It all comes down to the dollars and cents,” Cohen said. “Competition has heated up. In almost every industry you see less businesses competing for the same dollars. … We’re trying to capture the attention of very specific audiences and with great value. The recession of 2008 and 2009 was something that really caused businesses to step back and say, ‘We need to rethink the equation. We need to find growth in any corner we can find it.'”
That included the men’s department as well. Micky Onvural is the CEO of the popular menswear brand, Bonobos. Since their campaign last summer, Onvural said the company has seen three times the amount of traffic and double-digit growth in their business.
“We’re saying that we believe that it takes all sorts. … So whether it’s about, you know, your sexual identity, whether it’s about the way you dress, whether it’s about your body shape, your race – whatever it is that we should essentially all be accepting and inclusive of many, many definitions of what it means to be a man,” Onvural said.
Bonobos and Aerie are just a few of many retailers putting a priority on diversity. Clothing company J. Crew relaunched its brand late last year to introduce larger clothing sizes. ThirdLove embraces an aging woman in every form and stage of her life.
Some retailers say what started as a business venture is quickly becoming a social responsibility.
“Last summer I was on a ferryboat and this mom came over to me and she said, ‘My daughter has an insulin patch. Thank you. Now my daughter goes out wearing a bathing suit proudly.’ And these little moments to me, and touching one person at a time, has become just a mission of mine,” Aerie’s Foyle said.