Victoria’s Secret Has Become Out of Touch in the Age of #MeToo

victoria secret

The name Victoria’s Secret evokes images of tall, slim supermodels–Gisele Bundchen, Tyra Banks, and Karlie Kloss, among others–walking the runway in bejeweled push-up bras, sheer bodysuits, and 60-pound angel wings. The company’s lingerie ads, and especially its annual fashion show–the most-viewed such event in television history–have long been accused of objectifying women and hypersexualizing them. And while the brand is still the largest lingerie retailer in North America, its reliance on an impossibly narrow definition of beauty and a lack of inclusion with respect to body size, race, and gender have made it look out of touch, even as upstart competitors like ThirdLove and Rihanna’s Savage Fenty gain market share.

Lingerie is a niche industry in the luxury space, and it’s difficult to get people excited about a brand like Victoria’s Secret when there are so many other options. But in the early days, Victoria’s Secret made an effort to bring the upscale European lingerie aesthetic to the US by offering a range of colors and styles that promised “sexiness packaged in a tasteful, glamorous way.”

When Les Wexner bought the company in 1982, the chain had five stores and a 40-page catalog. Within a decade, it had grown to dozens of locations and was selling more than a billion dollars in products each year. But by the end of the decade, sales were slipping and Wexner was ready to sell.

Its biggest asset was its annual fashion catwalk extravaganza, where supermodels sashayed down the runway in Swarovski-crystal covered wings and thongs. But that image became increasingly controversial in the age of #MeToo and sexual harassment, especially after former VP Ed Razek caused an uproar in November by saying transgender and plus-size models were “a problem.”

During the same time period, Victoria’s Secret began to lose market share to competitors such as ThirdLove and Savage Fenty. Last year, same-store sales slipped 3%, and the company’s stock slumped. Amid the slump, Wexner stepped down from his position as CEO, and Mehas was hired to turn things around.

Mehas’ biggest challenge will be to revamp a marketing strategy that has become outdated and out of step with the times. He says he wants to focus on inclusivity and expand the brand’s product line beyond bras, underwear, and pyjamas. He plans to bring back swimwear and activewear, categories that the company exited in recent years in favor of lower-cost alternatives like Spanx. He also intends to increase the number of high-profile ambassadors and hire more people from diverse backgrounds. But critics say the company is moving too slowly and will find it hard to compete with upstart brands. In the meantime, shoppers are opting for off-price alternatives and even shopping on eBay or Depop, a private marketplace that sells used clothing.