“In the past we’ve had role models and they’ve been fantastic. But now it’s more than just role models,” Stacey McCormick, senior vice president of Aerie brand marketing, told WWD. “It’s the community, it’s our ambassadors, it’s our change makers. It’s a lot more than just appointed people.
“The customer has made this brand so famous,” McCormick continued. “And viral moments that have happened [on social media] with some of the Aerie product is literally the customers speaking for us. The customers who have been there for us and supported us, we want to make sure they’re part of the story.”
The new Aerie Real Voices include actress Antonia Gentry, singer, songwriter Kelsea Ballerini, TikTok personalities the NaeNaeTwins and wheelchair dance team the Rollettes, along with previous AerieReal role model, gymnast and Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman.
But McCormick is quick to point out that Aerie Real Voices will not be limited to these select few. In fact, the brand will continue to add voices from the greater Aerie community this fall, everyone from “mothers to business owners to people who are in very specific communities,” McCormick explained.
“They’re voices of this generation that are important and have been with us on the journey and are fans of the brand,” she said. “The evolution of what’s been happening and what we’ve really been doubling down over the past year is elevating the communities’ voices and having these ambassadors and people who are integrated in the brand in many different ways speak up.”
While advocating for diversity and inclusion may be the current norm, Aerie, which was founded in 2006, was one of the first lingerie brands to feature so-called “real women” modeling its products. In 2014, the innerwear, swimwear and loungewear brand launched the first Aerie Real campaign with role model Iskra Lawrence proudly posing in Aerie products. Except there was no airbrushing and all the features that would have historically been considered flaws — including stretch marks and cellulite — were on display.
It didn’t take long for both Aerie’s fanbase and list of role models to grow. Aerie’s annual revenues surpassed $1 billion in 2020, despite the damage caused by the pandemic on the overall retail industry. Now the brand has its sights set on the $2 billion mark.
“As the leader in showcasing real women, Aerie has built a powerful community, which we continue to foster by creating even greater opportunities for our customers’ voices to be heard,” said Jennifer Foyle, president and executive creative director of the American Eagle and Aerie brands. “The AerieReal Voices campaign serves as a global testimony to our brand, as we echo the personal journeys and stories of these incredible and inspiring individuals. Our leading brand platform and strong community, together with amazing product, is solidifying our leadership within the industry.”
Aerie also launched a new sub brand — activewear brand Offline — in July 2020. And while competitors are shuttering brick-and-mortar stores at unprecedented rates, Aerie and Offline are on track to open new physical locations in the back half of 2021: 40 new Offline by Aerie stores, a mix of stand-alone, side-by-sides and shops-in-shop, and 47 new stand-alone Aerie stores, many of them in new markets.
“As important as digital is, those store experiences are also super important,” McCormick said. “The campaign and the brand is not 100 percent digital. It’s rooted in really making it from the bottom up, from the community up.”
That explains why Aerie Real Voices will be broadcast both digitally — by way of social media and the brand’s website — as well as in real life, including billboards, in-store activations and pop-up events, this fall.
Aerie’s second annual AerieReal Summit is also tentatively scheduled to take place in-person this October in New York City (depending on local lockdowns and CDC guidelines), at which time the brand will reveal its second batch of Aerie Real change makers, or women who inspire the Aerie community and have set out to create change, including the Rollettes.
“We are proud to be a part of the Aerie family and to serve as a blueprint for real and meaningful change,” said Chelsie Hill, founder and chief executive officer of the Rollettes. “At Rollettes, our mission is singularly focused on the support and empowerment of women and girls with disabilities all around the world. We are excited to partner with Aerie, as a like-minded brand committed to inspiring body positivity and amplifying real female voices across their platforms. With the shared sensibility that we are stronger together, we are using our voices as part of the Aerie Real campaign, to connect with the Aerie community and bring awareness to the importance of disability representation in fashion.”
Aerie fans everywhere can also go to ae.com/aerie-real-life/real-voices, starting Oct. 6, for their chance to upload a personal video, sharing their stories and a chance to be selected for a future Aerie campaign or as an Aerie voice.
“We’re scouting people to tell their stories and to have their story come to life through our platform,” McCormick said. “We feel with the Aerie Real community and how we’ve grown, these voices are the ones speaking for us. These voices are the ones telling people how the product has made them feel, how we helped them build their confidence. These voices are now on the forefront.”