Between 2016 and 2018, the market share of Victoria's Secret in the U.S. dropped from 33% to 24%, as the company had received criticism for being behind the times. When it comes to our underwear, we want comfort over sex appeal, and when it comes to businesses, we want them to be harassment-free. The New York Times recently published a piece detailing a culture of "misogyny, bullying and harassment" at Victoria's Secret.
"This abuse was just laughed off and accepted as normal. It was almost like brainwashing. And anyone who tried to do anything about it wasn't just ignored. They were punished," Casey Crowe Taylor, a former public relations employee at Victoria's Secret, told the Times.
The allegations weren't much of a surprise. L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner had been tied to Jeffrey Epstein, and chief marketing officer Ed Razek stepped down last year following transphobic and fatphobic comments. Five months ago, the Model Collective (an organization that advocates for the protection of models) met with L Brands/Victoria's Secret, asking the company to "take concrete action to change its culture of misogyny and abuse."
It did not, and the Model Alliance sent the company an open letter after the New York Times piece came out, calling out the bad behavior at Victoria's Secret. "The time for listening is long past; it's time for Victoria's Secret to take action to protect the people they profit from," the letter reads. "Human rights violations can't be stopped with a corporate rebranding exercise."
"The Model Alliance believes in safety, freedom to work without fear of harassment, and real consequences for abusers. Victoria's Secret's failure to create an environment of accountability, both in-house and in their interactions with a network of agencies and creatives, undermines these values. We envision an industry in which creative expression flourishes and everyone can work without fear of harassment or abuse," the letter continues.
The letter also outlines details of the RESPECT Program, a Model Alliance that is, according to the letter, the "only existing accountability program designed by and for models." Some of the proposed changes include requiring employees and photographers to follow a code of conduct.
The letter has been signed by over 100 models, including some of the biggest names in the industry. Christy Turlington Burns, Amber Valletta, Edie Campbell, and Amanda de Cadenet have all signed the letter.
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L Brands responded to the letter, saying they're on the same page. "We absolutely share a common goal with Model Alliance to ensure the safety and wellbeing of models. Our robust Photo Shoot Procedures, including training and oversight, were implemented in May 2019 and reflect elements of the RESPECT Program and beyond. We're proud of the progress we've made and remain committed to continuous improvement. We're always open to engage with those looking to make improvements in the industry," L Brands said in a statement.
Actions speak louder than words, and the only way Victoria's Secret can be better is by doing better. A company that makes products marketed to women should treat the women it hires with respect. And yes, that includes underwear models.
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