The tagged photograph part on the Instagram web page for Parade, an underwear start-up based in fall 2019, exhibits a surfeit of pictures of younger ladies modeling brightly coloured briefs and bikinis. Many of them pose in studio residences, stretched out on velvet couches and propped up on dressers. Some press in opposition to vinyl bathe curtains, donning the neon underwear in mirror selfies. All of them look easy.
It’s common today for a model to take over social media like this — seemingly in a single day and , in nonprofessional images posted by nonprofessional fashions. But these campaigns almost at all times depart viewers questioning: Where did this begin?
For Mariah Williams, 21, it was a direct message from Parade’s Instagram account, providing her free samples. When the merchandise arrived, she took the time off from her job as a barbershop receptionist to curate a photograph shoot to indicate off her new burnt-orange underwear; within the photograph she posted, a bamboo planter sits subsequent to her backside half, and her face is simply out of the body.
“Taking these pictures really made me feel good about myself and my body. Especially with seasonal depression, I was in a mood,” she mentioned.
Ms. Williams, who has solely 2,000 followers on Instagram, is one among greater than 6,000 ladies and nonbinary Instagrammers who obtained messages from Parade providing free presents, ideally in trade for social posts.
In addition to mailing samples, the corporate additionally despatched alongside digital temper boards and a Google Drive of inventive route, within the hopes that the recipients would use it as inspiration for their very own posts. The reward bins yielded a whole bunch of posts throughout social media and drove curiosity in Parade’s merchandise.
The pandemic has been devastating for the fashion industry. But not for underwear. Those sales have had a steady uptick since the beginning of the pandemic; according to Allied Market Research, the lingerie industry is estimated to be worth $325 billion by 2025.
Parade was founded in 2019, just months before the U.S. economy shut down in March, by Cami Téllez and Jack Defuria, two friends in their early 20s. As most fashion companies struggled to keep afloat, Parade sold over 700,000 pairs of underwear and brought in $10 million in revenue, according to a company representative.
Ms. Téllez, the start-up’s C.E.O., attributes that success to the strength of the brand’s image.
“Parade has been able to create a groundswell, a cultural zeitgeist. I think that we’re changing the way a whole generation of women see themselves, and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful,” she said. Parade estimates that 1 in 8 customers posts a picture of themselves in the underwear.
Parade is one of many brands that have eschewed paid influencer campaigns in favor of sending products to people who have smaller and more dedicated followings, and often aren’t influencers at all.
“They’re just reaching out to normal people who have followers they actually know in real life,” Ms. Williams said.
“Working with micro-influencers is part of our DNA,” Ms. Téllez said. “Unlike brands of underwear past, we don’t think you need to have hundreds of thousands of followers or be a supermodel to share your underwear story.”
Gifting programs, which offer free product in exchange for posts, have also become more common. But the tactic has sparked discussions about unpaid labor. “As a small influencer, especially as a Black and brown influencer, we often get used and not paid,” Ms. Williams said. She has since reached out to Parade about receiving commission in exchange for promoting a discount code.
Rhea Woods, the head of influencer strategy at Praytell Agency, encourages brands to offer compensation to influencers, no matter how small their following. “It is very standard to pay those folks several hundred dollars,” she said. “That shocks brands. But at the same time, we’re asking for rights to their name, image and likeness,” Ms. Woods said.
Because of its far reach, Parade’s campaign took on a second life, sparking an online conversation about who received sponsorships. One Twitter user posted: “Is it just me or does Parade Underwear feel like a Pyramid Scheme?” Another tweeted: “Why didn’t Parade send me underwear am I ugly or something”
“I think those tweets if anything, speak to how wide ranging our brand has become,” Ms. Téllez said.
Dana Donnelly, a 25-year-old comedian and writer with 128,500 followers, posted an image of her Parade underwear in September, but after a few months she saw the brand target smaller and smaller accounts, and she became more skeptical. She questioned if the entire Parade marketing campaign foundation was founded on stoking feelings of exclusion. “I can’t tell what their objective is besides making the girls they’re sending it to feel cool and the girls they’re not sending it to feel uncool,” she said. “It’s almost like high school mean-girl marketing.”
Yamini Nambimadom, 22, who received a sponsorship, described it as “guerrilla marketing campaign, where you watch your friends promote something and you would want to try it.” Ms. Nambimadom does not consider herself an influencer and had never been approached by a brand before but was intrigued by Parade’s campaign. “There’s a social psychology of wanting to be a part of something,” she said. (Ms. Nambimadom has cheekily added “Recipient of Parade Underwear” to her Twitter bio.)
When asked about how people were selected to be included in the campaign, Ms. Téllez said: “There are hundreds of psychographics” (i.e. many factors she would not name).
In early December, Parade released a collaboration with Juicy Couture; the accompanying campaign featured women donning underwear with “JUICY” written across the rear in rhinestones. “I think that most women in America have some sort of emotional connection to Juicy because it was one of the very first self-expression brands,” Ms. Téllez said. (For what it’s worth, the company made its name on $150 tracksuits.)
Gab Landrum, 28, an artist who posted about Parade, became critical of the brand after the Juicy collaboration. “It didn’t seem to be about normal people anymore.”
Mx. Landrum, who takes nongendered pronouns, noted that in the most recent revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, many brands advantageously adopted progressive slogans but rarely invest in meaningful representation.
“You can scroll back to Parade’s Instagram page in March and see the shift in skin tone. And a few months goes by, and they go back to being very thin, mostly white, with very sparse representation of Black and heavy people,” they said.
Mx. Landrum said that because younger consumers are increasingly politically aware, brands have learned to lean into causes. Parade recently told customers it would donate $1 to Feeding America for every post that featured their underwear with the hashtag #ParadeTogether and five friends tagged.
“We really believe in having a technicolor view on inclusivity as a whole,” Ms. Téllez said. (When asked if the employees of Parade reflect that commitment to diversity, the chief executive declined to comment.)
Because of the popularity of the company’s Instagram campaign, Ms. Donnelly, the comedian, joked that soon enough everyone would be an influencer. In her own Parade post, she’s kneeling in crimson red underwear, gazing toward the viewer and almost smiling.
“I’ve been influenced!” one of the comments reads.