Popular clothing company ModCloth has become the first brand to sign onto the “Truth In Advertising Heroes Pledge,” a voluntary commitment to refrain from using overly Photoshopped models on its website and promotional materials. In an open letter published on its site this week, one of ModCloth’s founders wrote that she’s “deeply disappointed in the way my industry depicts fashion to consumers” and she thinks it’s “time for real change.”
Susan Koger, who started the company in 2002 with her high school boyfriend, is going beyond the commitment to avoid Photoshop. She’s also pledging to use a diverse range of models on the site, manufacture and sell clothing in a wide variety of sizes, and continue to listen to feedback from customers. And ModCloth is launching a #FashionTruth campaign, inviting all customers to join a “casting call for all” by snapping photos of themselves that could end up featured on the site.
“Not only is this our pledge to you, it’s also a challenge to the industry, because reflecting women as they really are should be the rule — not the exception,” Koger wrote in her letter.
Koger’s open letter coincides with the results from an independent survey commissioned by ModCloth. That poll found that just 13 percent of women think that the fashion industry accurately portrays “real women,” and 71 percent agreed there needs to be more diversity among fashion models. Over 60 percent of respondents said that the fashion industry is harmful to women’s body images.
“Fashion can be so transformative, and wearing something you really love can help you feel like the best version of yourself. But there are studies that show the majority of women feel worse after looking through a fashion magazine. You read these things about how 12 year girls are more concerned with gaining weight than with their parents dying,” Koger said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “And it’s like, wow, that’s pretty devastating. It’s really hard to hear that, and think about how the fashion industry is perpetuating that.”
Koger maintains that the fashion industry could still be a force for good if it starts showing a wider range of models with different body types — something she hopes will eventually help shift societal expectations about beauty. She said she wants her company to do its part to contribute to that broader cultural change.
ModCloth has long allowed customers to see what its products look like on a range of different bodies. Its site includes a Style Gallery that allows people to submit photos of themselves modeling the articles of clothing they’ve purchased, and it’s also recently worked on improving its selection of plus size clothing. The brand has been widely praised for its efforts in this area, and the move is also paying off financially — in 2013, plus size clothing contributed to eight percent of ModCloth’s overall revenue.
“As a business owner, I do think this is something we’re doing that really differentiates our brand and our company, and allows us to emotionally connect with our customers in a way that’s really powerful,” Koger said. “It’s something we hear all the time — ‘Thank you so much for showing women who look like me,’ or ‘I was able to buy this dress because I was actually able to see it on someone whose body type is similar to mine.'”
“This is good for business!” she added. “It’s time for the fashion industry to really wake up and look around and try it out.”
Although the industry is certainly slow to change, social media has helped facilitate a more public backlash to unrealistic portrayals of women’s bodies over the past several years. Models are increasingly speaking out against the overuse of Photoshop, and teenage girls are demanding more accurate representations in the magazines they read. This past spring, several members of Congress introduced national legislation to allow for more oversight of the companies that use overly retouched images in their ads — an initiative that’s won the support of eating disorder prevention groups as well as tens of thousands of voters who have signed onto a petition about it.
Proponents of tighter standards in advertising point out that being exposed to so many unrealistic images of what beauty is supposed to look like takes a toll on teens’ self-image, confidence, and mental health. Particularly for women, the pressure to conform to a societal ideal of thinness can have serious health consequences for the girls who grow up believing they’re too fat.
And according to ModCloth’s new survey, it’s not necessarily what consumers want. Two thirds of women agree they’re more likely to buy from a company that uses diverse models and limits the use of Photoshop. “It feels like now is the time to change the industry and really have a conversation about it,” Koger said.