Inside the Rise of Inclusive Models
Most people are familiar with the standard dummy you see in an average American clothing store. They are white, tall and incredibly thin with elongated necks and spindly limbs – they basically look like traditional mannequins.
But just as the models on the catwalk change to better reflect diverse consumers, so do the models. Savage x Fenty’s retail stores, the latest of which opened in early May, are filled with exclusive mannequins designed to reflect a wide range of body types. Various mannequins can also be found at Target, Nike, Old Navy and Nordströmas retail brands attempt to provide a more inclusive in-store experience.
Natalie Guzman, CMO of Savage x Fenty, said typical mall mannequins are outdated and don’t represent the diverse audience that Savage x Fenty caters to.
“Our exclusive models appeared because we saw the standard models and we weren’t happy,” she said.
Savage x Fenty worked with 3D body scanning service Fit:Match to scan the models’ bodies that the design team used to tailor their garments. These scans, which showed a wide variety of body types and sizes, then formed the prototype models. Fit:Match also offers an in-store service for Savage x Fenty customers to find the perfect fit.
Guzman said the custom mannequins allow Savage x Fenty to inject more personality into the store experience.
“In addition to getting the body sizes right, we also wanted to get the poses right,” Guzman said. “It was an opportunity for us to create an exhibition-like experience. As you walk through the store, you feel the message of who we are.
This new focus on mannequins reflects the philosophy that no part of a retail experience should be exclusive. This was the thrust of Old Navy’s Bodequality 2021 project. Alison Partridge Stickney, global vice president of women and maternity at Old Navy, said part of inclusion is rethinking every aspect of the shopping experience.
“Wherever our client goes, she will be seen,” Partridge Stickney said. “When she buys online, she’ll see that each product has been photographed on three different models, a size 4, 10 and 18. And when she walks into the store, she’ll see that same diversity reflected in the models.”
But creating new models is not easy. While ready-made mannequins can be purchased from most manufacturers for a few hundred dollars each, custom mannequins are more expensive. According to David Naranjo, the nearly 90-year-old vice president of creative director at mannequin maker Greneker, designing and prototyping a custom mannequin can cost between $12,000 and $15,000 in development costs. And that’s before the dummies were bought.
Greneker, which makes mannequins for around 50 retailers including Under Armour, Disney and Torrid, has been making plus-size mannequins since 2004 after working with Lane Bryant.. Naranjo said Greneker has received requests from more retailers over the past three years.
“A lot of inclusive models initially focused on women’s fashion,” Naranjo said. “Now we’re seeing more interest in the big and tall men’s category, tall kids, and more inclusive skin tones on the models. Disney actually asked for models with ‘daddy bods’ and for the children’ [mannequins]because he is the one who enters their stores.
Adapting to various skin tones is easier to achieve than height, Naranjo said, because it requires using a different paint job rather than a new body shape. But it also has its nuances. Naranjo said brands need to showcase a full range of skin tones lest they be seen as excluding certain people. A less laborious solution that some brands have adopted is to opt for a neutral tone like gray that does not correspond to an actual ethnicity. Some brands, like Under Armour, request specific shades of gray to match their store colors.
For its part, Disney has opted for a full lineup of models with facial features and skin tones to reflect black, Latino and Asian consumers, Naranjo said.
While the cost of fully custom mannequins can be high, the increased availability of off-the-shelf mannequins from manufacturers like Greneker means that even independent brands can afford to be more inclusive.
Alex Waldman, co-founder of Universal Standard, said brands shouldn’t view money invested in new mannequins as an added cost or burden, but rather as a benchmark to reflect who their audience is. Universal Standard has often been seen as a leader in the movement towards more inclusive fashion. Its showrooms feature mannequins in sizes ranging from 00 to 40. Each mannequin costs the brand around $300.
“All people, whether size 2 or 32, deserve to shop the same, so we approach every financial decision with size inclusion and quality first,” Waldman said. . “When it came to designing our SoHo [NY] showroom, there was no doubt what our mannequins would look like – they would look like the women who shop at Universal Standard, the average women in the United States.