Fashion apparel brands seem to have made a resolution to give voice to the women of India. Moving away from frivolous concepts, bold and edgy ads have become the new norm when it comes to fashion brands. Be it the latest offering from the Reliance stable - AJIO, Myntra, Zivame, or even the global brand - United Colours of Benetton, each of these brands have offered their take on various aspects of women empowerment through their recent campaigns.
India’s tryst with victim shaming and blaming, impossible beauty standards for women, preferential treatment to men, dowry, and the broader problem of gender bias and inequality are all themes that fashion brands have tackled head on through their hard-hitting campaigns. The change in tonality infuses strength and character to a category that is generally not identified with advertisements that deliver a punch.
Fashion is easily classified as superficial even though making even the simplest of fashion choices is mostly met with severe judgement, ridicule and shaming. “Never before has the world been so connected and yet so intricately woven into a mesh of tribes and beliefs as it is today. And each voice and tribe have a platform to be heard in the form of social media. Fashion as a category is one we consume everyday and is intimately linked to our emotional core of how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen by others. Fashion can no longer just be about "looking pretty" and "attracting the opposite sex", fashion brands that want a long-term, meaningful relationship with their consumers have to be able to forge a bond based on shared ideologies. And then stand by them to walk the talk,” said a spokesperson from AJIO, which recently launched an empowering ad campaign.
AJIO.com, a fashion e-commerce offering from the Reliance Industries stable, took on the subject of victim shaming and victim blaming in its latest commercial which was complemented with an edgy fashion show at the Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2017 that concluded recently. As part of the campaign, the fashion show opened with a thematic audio-visual presentation featuring women sporting cardboard boxes, which had on them statements such as ‘I’m wearing skinny jeans. Should I be banned from college?’
The fashion show was based on themes such as: They told me not to wear this to work, and they told me not to wear this to college. The video campaign also showcased women caged inside cardboard boxes asking if their choice of clothing was provocative, wrong, or even a crime. The visuals of women in insipid brown boxes were accompanied by a voice over that chastised the women. An AJIO spokesperson explained the thought process behind the campaign saying. “Of late, the discrimination against women especially for sartorial choices has been on the rise. In fact many a times, several sections of society have blamed a woman and her attire for the rising menace against women.”
The spokesperson further said that as a fashion brand that encourages everyone to express their personal style, AJIO wanted to add its voice to the conversation to remind everyone that it is Not What One Wears that is to blame, but the perpetrator of the crime. “We want to inspire everyone to express their personal style whenever, however and WHEREVER they want- freely and fearlessly,” said the spokesperson.
The brand launched the campaign in conjunction with its fashion show at LFW “to amplify the sound of our voice and draw attention to this issue. This is not a protest or a rebellion - this is a calm, peaceful conversation. After all, ‘baat karne se hi soch badalti hai’,” the spokesperson said.
Only last week United Colours of Benetton launched its #UnitedByHalf campaign in an attempt to “highlight the need for genuine equality for women with their partners that do not restrict them through taboos defined by society.” The 30 second spot begins with a voice over “We are not better halves or worse, definitely not the weaker halves” to visuals of a little girl winning a round of arm wrestling with a boy and a lady police officer addressing male colleagues.
The ad is part of Benetton Group’s sustainability program aimed at supporting the empowerment of women worldwide, demanding equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity to succeed, and gender equality as a whole. The ad raises a voice for all women who have been denied their half for far too long. The ad ends with a call to “unite for the equal half.”
Sajan Raj Kurup, Founder and Creative Chairman, Creativeland Asia, the creative agency behind the campaign, said, “No matter how much we deny it, this world won’t be a better place till women and men are treated as equals by one and all. Be it at home, or school, or the workplace. The #UnitedByHalf campaign is an effort towards a better world, and we are proud to be working with Benetton on this journey.”
Zivame’s #FitForAll campaign is all about recognising that women don’t come in one size. The brand’s inclusive line of lingerie is designed to cater to women of all sizes and shapes. The 45 second spot was conceived based on the consumer insight that women find it challenging to find appropriate lingerie in sizes other than the so-called “popular sizes” in the market.
The ad makes the point that women should not have to fit into sizes or social constructs that are not meant for them. Sirisha Tadepalli, Marketing Director, Zivame, said that rich consumer insights from the e-commerce platform led Zivame to create the widest range of lingerie for the Indian woman– from 28A to 46H. “To bring this alive, we’ve chosen a cast that’s diverse, in terms of body type and life stages. This film is our endeavour to ensure that every woman finds her perfect fit, and does not have to “fit into” anything, be it lingerie or life,” Tadepalli said.
In the past other apparel brands such as Myntra’s Anouk and Biba have addressed issues of gender bias, homosexuality, and dowry in their commercials. Anouk’s #BoldIsBeautiful campaign launched last year took on the subjects of prioritising a woman’s career, fighting unsolicited flirtatious behaviour from men, single parenthood, and even homosexuality. Biba in its #ChangeisBeautiful campaign tackled entrenched male chauvinism in the Indian society especially in the context of marriage.
These ads were subtle in their messaging, but made a statement nonetheless. We are now seeing a new crop of ads that refuse to mince words, making this trend a welcome change in the landscape of fashion brand advertisements.