FWO Influencers Presents: Roslyn Griner, vice president of marketing & visual display at Addition Elle
By Chris Collie, Editor-in-Chief
There’s a revolution going on in the plus-size market, whether you’ve been following it or not. The question is simple: Why can’t curvy-lined girls get the same clothes their straighter-lined counterparts can? One of the leaders of this new “fashion democracy” has been Addition Elle, with campaigns spearheaded by their VP, Roslyn Griner.
Their New York Fashion Week show, AG Lingerie “Black Orchid” Collection, will be held September 15 at 11 AM. Look for a new collection at Lord and Taylor Fifth Avenue, debuting September 16.
Q: What was the actual turning point that inspired your venture into fashion marketing and product development in the plus-size market?
To be honest, it was kind of an accident. I mean I’ve spent most of my career in beauty. I was actually working in New York just before I started this venture into retail. A headhunter called me and said, “Hey, would you be interested in interviewing for this position?” I’d never considered retail, to be quite honest, and plus retail wasn’t anything that really came to mind. But I remember going to the stores and being really depressed by just how awful it was in terms of the shopping environment for plus sized.
I was really depressed by the plus-size department.
And I thought, “If it was me, and I was plus-sized, would I tolerate it?”
I always love a challenge. I think when you put yourself in the position of the end consumer you’re trying to service, you end up really going in the right direction. And I think it’s because I wanted a challenge, and it was something completely different, and it was a bit disenfranchised from cosmetics. So I thought, “Hey I can try this.” And I love it. I love the feedback I get from our customers in our stores. We’re having a real impact and changing the dialogue.
Q: I can completely agree. I have some plus-size friends who have that complaint all the time. They say, “It seems like they’re just giving us clothes to put on, not clothes to actually feel good in. Just clothes to cover our bodies.”
Q: Now the plus-size market is exploding. What has been one of the biggest challenges your team has had to overcome?
It’s been really simple. Customers are frustrated, saying: “Why is there no fashion democracy? Why can’t I get the same clothes that I see my non-curvy friends buying at H & M?”
They want to know, “Why can’t I get the same clothes that I see at H & M?”
Why can’t I get clothes that look like that in my size?
So our vision statement for Addition Elle became, “We want to deliver fashion democracy, where style isn’t limited by size.”
And that was the insight that really drove the reinvention of our chain. It changed the way the merchants thought about the products. The other insight is that the fashion world has neglected plus size, and plus-sized people don’t see themselves being represented in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, or any magazine for that matter.
We want to deliver fashion democracy, where style isn’t limited by size.
So we wanted to create a very editorial style of photography, and portray our customer in a very inspirational way, as much as if it belonged in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. And those two insights started to change the destiny of our company.
We started to think about creating brands. For example, what if we want to create a brand like Top Shop? What would that look like? And that’s what the “Love & Legend Collection” is.
The fashion world has neglected plus size.
Q: I’m glad you touched on that. The landing page of Addition Elle looks editorial; like you pulled the photos straight from a magazine, and that is very, very new in the plus-size market. It shows you can be whatever size, and still have that glamour and elegance. What do you feel has been the most comprehensive campaign roll-out you’ve worked on? And which campaign you do you feel pushed the envelope the most?
I think the most challenging thing has been to start rolling out into new markets. We’re going to be launching at Lord and Taylor on Fifth Avenue on September 16th.
Q: I’m sitting right across the street from Lord and Taylor right now.
What I really admire about Lord and Taylor is they really want to reinvent the shopping experience for plus, and they feel like none of the department stores are addressing it in a really beautiful, fashionable way. When you go to Bloomingdale’s what do you think of as the most contemporary floor? It’s the second floor, right? They have a cool, contemporary department, and you find all of the cool, contemporary brands there.
Lord and Taylor really wants to reinvent the shopping experience for plus.
But when you go to plus, everything is very misty, it’s very old fashioned. It feels like it’s basically directed at a woman who’s seventy-five years old.
The plus-size market is lacking a contemporary floor in department stores with that same energy. And no department store has been providing that energy.
So Lord and Taylor approached us and said, “We want to carry your brand, and we want to create a new contemporary floor in the process, especially with the departure of Jones of New York.” They said, “We want to fill that gap for the customer that they’re only finding online, because they can’t find it in stores anymore.” And it’s really the truth. And that’s the reason why so many younger plus-sized consumers have turned to the Internet to do their shopping, because they don’t find themselves represented in a brick and mortar store.
So many younger plus-sized consumers have turned to the Internet, away from brick and mortar./blockquote>
We feel like this is a great opportunity. But in terms of campaigns, I’m going to say it was a turning point when we signed Ashley Graham.
We said, “We’re going to do Victoria’s Secret even sexier than Victoria’s Secret.” And if you look at our video campaigns, it’s way sexier than even Victoria’s Secret.
We said, “We’re going to do Victoria Secret even sexier than Victoria’s Secret.”
I think the thing that turned it was the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. Last February, when I saw that Fifty Shades of Grey was going to launch, I had this idea. I said, “We’re going to merge reality and retail into this concept.” So I basically created a cinema campaign that was integrated into the pre-roll of the actual movie, and it ran just before the movie started.
We created a cinema campaign that was integrated into the pre-roll of Fifty Shades of Grey.
We created a video that mirrored the story line: like “girl meets guy,” fantasy sequel ensues, and then hot sex and magic. It was actually so hot that Google didn’t even want to run it. When we were going to advertise on YouTube, we had to have to have a Parental Guidance notice.
It was actually so hot, Google didn’t want to run it.
It was cool. And actually made me like it even better, because I said I’m not editing my content. And that last campaign I just did for YouTube, again was disallowed because there’s a part of the campaign where Ashley is topless, and she dropped her bra, and again we’re pushing the envelope of what is considered to be acceptable.
We’re pushing the envelope of what is considered to be acceptable. And the girls love it.
We want to push it because we see that they love it. The girls are just loving these campaigns; they’re loving that they’re being portrayed. It’s interesting that Lane Bryant ran the campaign “I’m no angel.” But yes you are, you are an angel! You’re hot, you’re sexy, and we’re going to represent you. And that’s when we came up with the mantra, and the hashtag, “#IAmSizeSexy.”
That’s when we came up with the hashtag, “#IAmSizeSexy.”
And it’s also inclusive, because you could be size 2 and be size sexy, and be size 22 and be size sexy. So it doesn’t feel like it singles anyone out. I think really the whole point of plus-size marketing is to be inclusive not exclusive.
Q: I thought the “I Am Size Sexy” campaign was really brilliant, because it covers all shapes and sizes.
Every size is beautiful. No size is more beautiful than another. And again, if your mission statement as a brand is to be about fashion democracy, you can’t say you’re better than anybody else.
Q: Walk me through the thought process behind “I Am Size Sexy.”
We were in a photo studio shooting Ashley for a denim campaign, and I said, “Ashley, take your top off” — as I usually say in photography — “I think you are just so sexy.” And she says, “I am size sexy.”
And so we sort of created the hashtag and plastered it all over the photo when we posted it on Instagram, and it went viral.
#IAmSizeSexy just went viral.
And then we said, “You know what, this is a great hashtag.” It’s not just limited to lingerie. We use it for clothing as well. We actually challenge girls to post their pics and tag it, “#IAmSizeSexy.”
And it also helps that Ashley uses the hashtag, we have other girls using it, and we even sell a t-shirt right now that says “I Am Size Sexy,” and we’re seeing girls posting pics on our Instagram account.
So we’re constantly using it. But I think what has really rallied people around our Instagram account is we love that everybody posts. We love our “Fans Fridays,” where we post customer pics. We have fans around the world for our brands that probably never would have heard about Additional Elle if it wasn’t for our Instagram account.
Q: It’s all very relatable to the everyday person. They get to see behind the illusion of the world being perfect. They get to see the day-to-day. And it lets them fall in love with the brand more.
I definitely think our strongest asset right now is that the engagement of our customers with our brand is so strong. If you look at our social media director Jennifer Patterson, she’s a plus herself, and she posts pics of what she wears to work every day. And she’s become a personality that our customers and our our fans relate to. She interacts with them. We were one of the first brands really to portray a fashion image on Instagram in plus. We’re also on Snapchat. We’re also doing Periscope during the runway show.
We’re also doing Periscope during the runway show.
So we’re a very social brand. I think if you want to really connect with your customer, you have to be. That’s the dialogue you have every single day with your customer, asking her, “What do you like?” I post a lot of pictures when we’re shooting our campaigns, far in advance of when I’m going to actually release them. Because I want to get input from our customers: “What do you think of this dress that’s for holiday? Do you love to hate it?” And sometimes when I see there are a lot of “likes,” I actually go back to the merchants and say, “You’d better increase quantities, because they love this dress.”
Sometimes when I see a lot of “likes,” I actually go back to the merchants and say, “You’d better increase quantities.”
Q: For the future, what do you see in the next five years in terms of the growth of the brand?
I want to be a global brand, and I actually think that one of the big opportunities to counter Victoria’s Secret, which doesn’t want to venture into plus size, is department stores have to break the rules.
Department stores have to break the rules.
You know how department stores are bringing in retail brands outside of their own brand? If you go to Bloomingdale’s you’ll see an All-Saints installation, or TopShop in Nordstrom. I really believe that that’s the future of retail in department stores.
I really believe that that’s the future of retail in department stores.
We’re very selective about our partners. Because we want to have partners that are going to have the same vision of where we want to take plus size. Eventually I’d love to global stores of Addition Elle — standalone brick and mortar stores — everywhere in the world.
I feel like our concept is just so relatable, and it’s so transportable, because really deep down, all women feel the same. They all love fashion. All girls love fashion. It’s in our D.N.A. So I think what we’re delivering is a concept that every girl can relate to, and I think we need to bring that really great in-store experience to department stores.
Really deep down, all women feel the same. They all love fashion.
We’re doing that with the Lord and Taylor for clothing. We launched Ashley Graham Lingerie with Nordstrom. We’re opening two stores as a test in October. I know we’re going to do amazingly online. It’s been performing even better than expected. So our partners are very excited by the performance of it. So it bodes very well.
As for the runway show, it was really important for me not show at Plus Size Fashion Week, but to be in real fashion week. This is really going to break the boundaries.
The runway show Sept. 15 is really going to break the boundaries.
Q: I’m looking forward to it!
Addition Elle Presents Fall/Holiday 2015 RTW and AG Lingerie “Black Orchid” Collection> on September 15 at 11:00 am.
See the rest of Chris Collie’s series, FWO Influencers, at FashionWeekOnline.com/INFLUENCERS.