Free People Trading Out Models For Real People Is Good For Sales And For Our Definition Of Beauty

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You know that braid-heavy, nouveau hippie, Coachella-esque aesthetic that characterizes the Free People clothing brand? Well, you could have a hand in shaping it, based on Free People’s newly-expanded user-generated community, which utilizes fan photos to sell clothing. For the next two weeks, user-submitted photos will replace model photos in a special section on their website.

Free People’s had FPMe, a user-generated community where people can post pictures of themselves in Free People outfits, for about year and apparently, it’s been very popular. Outfits posted by users are shoppable and the company has also found success with featuring customer photos on their online product pages. Fashionista reports:

“Data from the past year has shown a 42 percent improvement in the same session conversion rate (i.e. someone buys something) on FreePeople.com when FP Me Pics are associated with product on the page.”

Damn! That means people are seriously more inclined to buy items when they see “real” people wearing them. I know when I browse around Free People’s website, I feel more inclined to purchase when I see the smaller pics of regular people modeling the clothes. I like to see how they look on different bodies, you know? I love Free People’s clothes, but I buy them all on Ebay because honestly, I can’t afford to buy them at retail price. I guess that doesn’t make me a good candidate for the FPMe community, but it’s not as if they have a dearth of ladies who are uploading ethereal, Instagrammed photos of themselves frolicking in fields with flowers on their heads. Their customer base consists of well-off, social media-savvy women who want to see other women wearing Free People clothing.

So, as a result of the success of the community, Free People launched a new, separate section, also called “FPMe,” where you can look at a curated selection of FPMe images. These images will replace model shots for the products featured for two weeks.

This new move for Free People is indicative of a larger sea change happening in the retail fashion industry. Clearly, consumers want to see women like themselves reflected in the retail market. Modcloth has had success with their user-generated community, Aerie has pledged to stop airbrushing models, and even high-fashion models are speaking out about the lack of body diversity. And finally, companies are taking notice.

Personally, I am not interested in giving a company permission to use my image to sell their goods. But plenty of other women are! And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, not by a long shot. This user-generated model helps people feel more connected and more valued as consumers.

It also, slowly, helps to change our society’s standards of beauty. Seeing every day people, of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities model beautiful clothing teaches us, as the consumer, to value diversity. Of course, most of the images featured show thin, able-bodied and conventionally-attractive white women, so nothing too radical is happening. It’s not like anyone is uploading photos of themselves with ratty hair and Dorito-stained fingers, either, so there’s still an emphasis on visually-pleasing images that fall within Free People’s aesthetic. Still, I think having the opportunity to see non-professionals model clothing is valuable and useful in terms of widening the definition of what is considered beautiful and worthy of our gaze.

Free People is owned by the same parent company as Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, so I’m interested to see if this approach will eventually be widened to include these retailers, as well. I also hope that Free People will continue using fan-submitted photos as actual product photos. Maybe, eventually, we won’t see any models at all on their site. Only time (and their sales figures!) will tell.

Photo: Free People

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    • Lindsey Conklin

      I am so much more inclined to buy clothes in normal people wearing them because it’s more realistic!! I love free people!

    • http://coffeeontheedge.wordpress.com/ Jennie

      “It also, slowly, helps to change our society’s standards of beauty.”
      But not really. Free People currently has one dress in stock in an XL (size 14), and as a size 16, there isn’t a damn thing on their site that would fit me.

    • SCAQTony

      Market forces will determine the “standards of beauty” paradigm via the consumer “A/B testing” that we are all witnessing above.

      Sorry, “normal looking” is going to lose and “unobtainable fantasy” is going to win.

      “It is to be all made of fantasy, All made of passion and all made of wishes, All adoration, duty, and observance, All humbleness, all patience and impatience, All purity, all trial, all observance” — William Shakespeare

      Or was that a quote from a Prada art director?

    • jakee

      no this is something the customers have been asking fee people for years..they finally did it and found out they were right..too bad they still delete the “unflattering ” pictures and yes they also delete 50% of the negative reviews.. they try too hard ..

    • Ruby Hillcraig

      I think the use of “real” women in fashion is becoming an increasingly popular public relations and marketing tool for brands. This Free People campaign reminds me of the Aerie campaign from a couple months ago that used real women to model its lingerie. I am all for better representations of beauty and body image but I think its always good to ask ourselves if its actually a step for feminism and change or if it’s just a trickier way to sell us something, what are the true motivations of the brands doing these campaigns? Maybe it is a true win win, selling products and promoting positive body image.