Models are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to downplay their visual impact. That is, until something changes.
Models have historically gone through trend cycles, experts say. But they are in the midst of a very important development.
For years, they’ve been seen simply as a way to showcase fashion clothes at their best, or as part of a larger merchandising strategy. Yet mannequins are not just a method of displaying clothing. Retailers are starting to recognize that body shapes can help customers see themselves reflected in their brand and gain deep loyalty. Models, it seems, can be a way for a business to reiterate brand values.
“Models are storytelling vehicles,” said Adam Moon, executive creative director of Fusion, a creative design studio and the world’s largest producer of models, according to the company. They have evolved over the years, he said, “moving from a sort of altitude, a model to becoming more realistic and representative of the customers who shop in our stores.”
And this transformation makes models more important than ever because it can signal what’s important to a retailer. They have the ability to generate personal recognition in a customer base and thus allow customers to see themselves reflected in the shopping experience.
A new wave of shapes
The history of models is long, with one of the first discoveries found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. The form was most likely used as a life-size model for royal seamstresses or to hold the king’s clothing and jewelry. In the 15th century milliner mannequins, which was a kind of miniature fashion doll, was sent to wealthy clients by seamstresses as a demonstration of the latest fashion. In 1835, an ironworker in France produced a wireframe model, and in 1854 a tailor by the name of Alexis Lavigne filed the first patent for mannequins cast in plaster. The form became predominant in Parisian department stores in the 1850s. The use of mannequins for in-store merchandising then spread to the United States and Great Britain.
By 2020, the global mannequin market size had reached $ 1.2 billion and is expected to reach nearly $ 1.5 billion by the end of 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 2.8 %. according to a recent study. Male models are the largest segment, with a share of around 30%.
Variations of shapes come in and out of style, with some decades offering realistic versions, while other trends rely on more abstract mannequins (who hasn’t walked past a store with headless mannequins in the window?) . But, whatever the case, models have always been a sales display vehicle. Experts interviewed said that the rate of sale of clothing placed on mannequins is historically high.
This is because models attract attention. They give shoppers visual clues about what’s stylish, they quickly show how an outfit can be put together, and sometimes help shoppers discern how clothes will fit without the need to go into a walk-in closet.
And deciding not to showcase body diversity can ultimately come at a cost to retailers. Having a variety of models is one way for businesses to market in person to audiences that may be used to shopping online, according to Joan Braatz, a freelance executive marketer with. Experience in assortment optimization and product development with retailers such as JC Penney and Macy’s. Do some people stand in front of a store and say, “Well, none of this is going to suit me” and not come in? She asked, saying that retailers that show off different body types can appeal to shoppers and make them excited to go to stores.
This ultimately makes models an important part of the retail business, according to Moon. “There is no better and more effective way to show someone outfits or trends or the latest trends than to do it through a model’s vehicle.”
“There would be a tremendous amount of deliberation over what we put on the mannequins because we knew it was the most powerful space in the store,” Braatz said.. Working with models, she says, “tells the story, it sets the tone – especially at the start of new seasons. This model guarantee is really valuable. “
It also means that retailers are making conscious decisions about what percentage of their store’s square footage can be devoted to forms as a marketing vehicle. Braatz points to Target, who she says has made a concerted effort with merchandising and store redesigns in recent years. “When you think of Target, those sales per square foot must be huge. So for them to pull up a table to put a set of three mannequins in the middle of a floor – I think they’re really committing to walking. their merchandising efforts. “
A promise made by visual merchandising
Retailers have recently put more emphasis on their diversity efforts when it comes to everything from how they hire and train staff, to re-evaluating their product line. Models, however, are another way to advance inclusion concepts at the store level by signaling to customers that they are thinking of their shoppers.
Target has started adding plus-size mannequins to stores years ago, and notably has shapes in sizes four, 10 and 16 donning his sportswear brand All in Motion. This private brand, which promotes the values of inclusiveness and sustainability, has generated $ 1 billion in sales in its first year.
At the beginning of the year, The athlete announced that she was expanding her sizes through her collection, with over 500 styles available in sizes XXS to 3X or 00 to 26. The brand’s team worked with women of all body types to test each piece, ” making sure the same design intent and fit fits in all sizes, ”according to a company statement at the time.
But, Athleta has gone further to demonstrate that commitment, first by training all of its store associates in size-inclusive, and then adding size-inclusive models to its stores. These shapes also feature different hair styles, facial features and are a gray shade “to represent all skin tones,” according to the company. The mannequins were created to feature a mix of active and static poses, including running, stretching, meditation, and pear trees.
Sister company Old Navy quickly followed suit. This summer, the clothing brand unveiled its Quality company, which offers all women’s clothing in sizes 0 to 30 and XS to 4X, with all sizes at the same price. The mannequins were introduced in sizes 4, 12 and 18, and all products are now marketed together.
“One of the main comments we’ve heard from customers is that they want to be able to shop with their friends, regardless of size, and don’t want to be relegated to a separate section,” Gap said. . The Inc spokesperson told Retail Dive via email. “Shopping should be a joyful experience that you enjoy with others, where everyone feels in their place.”
And the decision to highlight inclusive forms of the waist is having an impact. “There’s a little bit of change coming, and I really think retailers like Athleta and Old Navy are embracing that and setting a new tone for the industry,” Braatz said of the models. “I think there is merit – for a client to gravitate towards where she sees herself. And I think Old Navy and Athleta do.”
Many other retailers are considering how to bring in models that resonate with audiences, and Fusion has been among the biggest changes for this segment of the industry. The company, which was founded in 1986, believes that people should see themselves represented in stores. She offers mannequins in sizes from 00 to 32, and “hundreds” of shades are available to reflect a wide variety of skin tones.
The company recently decided to create a line of gender non-conforming mannequin products. To do this, Fusion has teamed up with The Phluid Project, a retailer launched in 2018 that makes gender-free clothing and accessories. With input from The Phluid Project, Fusion has developed a collection of mannequins, dubbed Prism, to represent the community of gender nonconformities. The new collection offers forms without gender, transmasculine, transfeminine and including size.
“We needed guidance as an organization to get it right,” Moon said of Fusion’s partnership with The Phluid Project. Fusion has worked with “Phambassadors”, who support The Phluid Project brand and act as subject matter experts. The phambassadors shared their stories and thoughts and answered questions such as “What do you want to see in a mannequin body?” And “What does this body look like?”
“They showed us their souls,” Moon said. “What their bodies look like and what they want models to look like, how to best represent their bodies and ensure that we do it in a way that feels inclusive, even in the gender non-conforming community.”
The contribution ultimately informed and shaped the collection to “represent and celebrate the non-binary state of mind”.
Visually demonstrating inclusiveness can ultimately help forge a deeper relationship with buyers. “I think it resonates more with loyalty than an email or a courier or a coupon or whatever,” Moon said. Other experts agree, especially when it comes to the younger generations, who tend to have values-driven buying behaviors.
“Brands that signal inclusiveness in their communications embrace not only inclusivity trends of size, but also representation of skin tone, height and ability,” said Quynh Mai, Founder and CEO of Moving Image and Happy. “For Gen Z customers in particular, this inclusion signals a brand that understands their philosophy of acceptance.”
Models are a vehicle for literally displaying core beliefs. They can also serve as a means to engage shoppers and inspire consumers to think more inclusively about who should wear a brand’s clothing.
“It seems like something that in the future there may not be a need for specifically gendered mannequins anymore. They are just beautiful human forms,” Moon said. “And that could very well be the future and how department stores or brands evolve and break down gender barriers within their own departments.”