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