Nobody puts ThirdLove in the corner.
Last week, that is exactly what Victoria’s Secret tried to do. In an interview with Vogue about the brand’s annual fashion show, CMO Ed Razek said, “We’re nobody’s third love, we’re their first love.” It was a not-so-subtle attack on ThirdLove, a five-year-old startup founded by former Google executive Heidi Zak.
On Sunday, Zak responded to Razek’s zinger in a full-page ad in the New York Times, saying, “You market to men and sell a male fantasy to women . . . Your show may be a “fantasy” but we live in reality. Our reality is that women wear bras in real life as they go to work, breastfeed their children, play sports, care for ailing parents, and serve their country. Haven’t we moved beyond outdated ideas of femininity and gender roles?”
It wasn’t just ThirdLove that Razek offended. Among Razek’s many inflammatory comments in the Vogue piece, he said:
- “Victoria’s Secret has a specific image, has a point of view. It has a history . . . Everybody had the conversation about Savage [x Fenty] having the pregnant model in the show. We watch this, we’re amused by it, but we don’t milk it. And all of these things that they’ve ‘invented,’ we have done and continue to do.”
- “We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t. Our show is the only branded special in the world, seen in 190 countries, by 1 billion 6 million people; 45% more people saw it last year than the year before.”
- “Does the brand think about diversity? Yes. Do we offer larger sizes? Yes. So it’s like, why don’t you do 50? Why don’t you do 60? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”
The last comment, in particular, drew a lot of ire. The Model Alliance, a model’s advocacy group, put out a statement saying it was disappointed by Razek’s comments about trans and plus-size models.
This prompted Razek to apologize for his remarks. Sort of. He said, “We’ve had transgender models come to castings . . . And like many others, they didn’t make it . . . But it was never about gender.” (It’s possible Razek has never heard of the concept of unconscious bias.)
Following this interview, Victoria’s Secret’s CEO, Jan Singer, left her post after only two years on the job. The company declined to give an explanation about this sudden departure, although it could have something to do with the brand’s declining sales, which prompted one industry analyst to describe Victoria’s Secret as the “Sears of Brassieres.” Razek’s insensitive comments may have sealed the deal for her.
While Victoria’s Secret still controls a large chunk of the women’s lingerie market, many other startups—from ThirdLove to Lively to Knixwear to TomboyX—have entered the space with feminist, inclusive brands and products. Razek points out that these competitors are still small, and any single popular Victoria’s Secret bra may sell more than these companies’ entire product lines. That might be the case, but taken altogether, these startups are beginning to chip away at Victoria’s Secret dominance.
“I founded ThirdLove five years ago because it was time to create a better option,” Zak says in the ad. “ThirdLove is the antithesis of Victoria’s Secret. We believe the future is building a brand for every woman, regardless of her shape, size, age, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”
It seems that many millennials and gen Z-ers agree with her.