Boohoo have just launched their new campaign, #AllGirls. Unfortunately, their initial campaign drop didn’t land so well for one main reason – not “all girls” were represented in their initial advert. An absence of plus size bodies, disabled bodies and women wearing hijab meant that three very large subsections of society were missed out, which kind of demeaned the whole message behind #AllGirls. Of course, many people took to Twitter to voice their frustrations, including me. We often have to settle for breadcrumbs thrown to us from brands, but this time we decided to fight back. This isn’t the first plus size controversy to come from Boohoo – they also tend to charge their plus size customers more for clothing, something that is referred to as “fat tax”. They also use plus size models that are “industry plus” – that means they can be as small as a size 12, which is the lowest size required to be a plus size model in the fashion industry.
Since the uproar on Twitter and Instagram, it appears to most that Boohoo have ignored any bad comments, even going as far as deleting any negative comments from their social media channels. There has been no apology or explanation issued on social media, but some press have got quotes from Boohoo that mention that this isn’t the end of the campaign and they are working with “100’s of girls” to take the campaign forward. They have also launched a competition for Joe Public to enter to become the next iteration of their campaign. To many, this just seems like lip service – a knee jerk reaction to their failed first drop. It also feels like Boohoo are making people compete to be seen. I completely agreed with this view point (which you can see over on my Twitter account) – until I met with Boohoo face to face to ask them some questions.
I had a chat with Boohoo face to face as part of a press day I went on with Curve Fashion Festival (buy your tickets here!). I gave them some pretty difficult feedback around their handling of the situation, along with some other vocal plus size babes Hollie (PrettyBigButterflies) and Gloria (Glowpinkstah/Gloria Shuri Henry). We challenged them making people compete to be seen as part of a campaign. We challenged them on their silence and deletion of comments from social media. We challenged them on a lack of diversity in their diversity campaign. We made sure that every point spoken about on social media was put forward to them to give them the chance to respond.
Now, they explained that they had a string of issues that led up to the campaign which resulted in it landing wrong – including the hire of a plus size model to feature in the campaign who turned out to be smaller than they expected. I also know that they are sorry it landed how it did, and I know that they are trying to continue with the campaign as normal because if it did all go well, it would all make sense (which I challenged, but nevertheless…). They said the deletion of negative comments was as a result of a “panic mode” that the social media team entered, but that this was wrong and was fed back to the team to not do this in the future. They said that although they haven’t publicly apologised, they hope that the next round of the campaign will help to show that they do have the interests of “All Girls” at heart. The process should have been that the initial ad went out, it landed well, they then do a “now its your chance to get involved” type competition that was arranged with the influencers they have chosen a few months ago and then the next campaign shows “real” women who aren’t models being shown on TV and in print. They said that this staggered campaign was planned for months, and that although they understand how it now appears to be a knee-jerk reaction, it isn’t. They also mentioned that Plus Size is their biggest selling category, and they actually have budget ring fenced to increase the sizing in their offering over the next year (which they have started to do with offering size 26).
How do Boohoo fix this?
Talking to the Boohoo team, it was very clear that they were disappointed with how the campaign had landed and that they were still very invested in the premise behind #AllGirls. They are really keen to work with more plus size/disabled/women in hijab people in order to grow and learn and move forward. Now, I know it’s not our responsibility to fix the industry and this campaign – in an ideal world they would have just got this bang on first time, and we know that this isn’t a hard thing to nail down – however that’s not the reality we are in, so we need to push forward. As people who fight these battles every day, we could be best placed to help Boohoo to get this right next time.
Whether it’s Boohoo hiring more fat/disabled/women in hijab people in their PR teams or decision making teams, or whether it’s the use of influencers in this group, the change in the industry needs to come from the inclusion of these marginalised groups. When it comes to plus size, this means using plus size women who shop from plus size ranges – i.e. women who are a size 18 and up. In fact, the goal would be to use size 24+ women who face the most rejection and suppression. It’s true that maybe Boohoo have burnt too many bridges – I know of many plus size influencers who have refused to work with them as a result of this campaign – but whilst Boohoo are willing to listen and to change (or at least, this was the gist I got when I spoke to them), should we be closing the door on them?
Yes, it’s not the prerogative of the marginalised to make the changes – but we can’t expect them to get things right if we aren’t part of the conversation. Am I still skeptical of what I was told? Yeah, I am. It could all have been PR spin in all honesty. But am I ready to just give up on them and chalk them up as another brand who just doesn’t care about marginalised women? I don’t think I am just yet, no. I was furious at first, I tweeted out my fury and I called them out on how it all seemed really publicly – and now I’ve spoken to them and they showed me courtesy despite me dragging them on social? Well, I’m ready to give them another go.
So to kick start this, hey Boohoo, I’m a size 24 fat women with an invisible illness that wants to work with you to help you get better. I have only three requirements:
1 – You pay me. My time doesn’t come for free, especially when it’s to fix the image of your brand for plus size customers.
2 – You listen to what I have to say, and you act on it.
3 – You begin to make changes and include marginalised women in your discussions.
Of course, there are hundreds of size 24+, Black/Asian, Disabled women who should also have a place at the table – in fact, they should have MY place at the table – so let’s start working together on making things better for plus size women, let’s include more people in your thought making process and let’s make a difference. If you’re an influencer reading this and you’re thinking of offering to help, join me. The more of us that offer, the better. If Boohoo have gone too far for you, that’s also cool and I really admire your stance – it’s a difficult thing to do, man! But personally, I’m not ready to cancel them just yet. I really believe that change happens from the inside out, and as long as we are on the outside, we can’t make change happen from the inside.