My Problem With River Island’s #labelsareforclothes Campaign

Kitty Morris

Kitty Morris

Plus size blogger, fashion photographer, cat lady and wife.
Kitty Morris

Last year River Island did an excellent job of expanding their plus size range up to a size 28. Their plus range has quickly become a plus size blogger favourite, offering chic, fashionable pieces that work alongside their existing straight size range. Most recently, there has been a lot of hype for their campaign, #LabelsAreForClothes.

‘This spring we celebrate 30 years of River Island with an exciting people positive campaign. Bringing together a diverse cast as the faces and voices of RI, we explore identity and reject the idea of labelling. We believe that LABELS ARE FOR CLOTHES, NOT PEOPLE, so we’re spinning tired stereotypes on their head and reclaiming labels to make them positive and truly REAL! To spread the positive vibes, we’ve teamed up with anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label with an exclusive range of empowerment tees and sweats that shout our mantra loud and proud! £3 from every sale, plus an extra £1* for every social share using #LABELSAREFORCLOTHES goes directly to DTL.’ (Source River Island 2018).

 

The range features a mixture of unisex sweatshirts, hoodies and t-shirts in a variety of colours and prints. The first thing I did was jump on over to filter the range by size and immediate disappointment hit. In women’s sizes, size 18 was the largest available selection. In the more unisex size labels, small to XXXL is available. At the time of writing, the largest size has 6 of the 10 items available to purchase, whereas the straight size range has all 10 items in stock. It may be because the XXXL has been more popular, but the cynic in me doubts it. A XXXL could mean anything in terms of sizing, so after some major hunting I found a size chart I could compare it to. Their size guide section is not the most helpful, so I had to compare two different charts to translate them to sizes that made understanding the XXXL easier.

Making the assumption that the XXXL available is the same as the one featured in the plus size top size guide, the #LabelsAreForClothes largest available size is comparable to a size 22/24. A XXXL has a bust measurement of  123-131 cm, the size 22 is 121cm, and the size 24 is 127 cm. A 26 is 132 cm so is sized out. The largest size that can potentially wear this range, is therefore a size 24. River Island’s plus size range covers 2 further sizes!

River Island claim to be featuring a diverse group in their campaign, and yet have left out 2 of the sizes they already sell! Watching their videos that accompanies the campaign, it becomes clear that they are leaving a lot of people out of this campaign.

There are 3 official videos that promote the campaign, two featuring adults models, and one for children. One of the two videos featuring adults features one curvier model, and none of them feature any visibly disabled models. It is absolutely wonderful to see a range of different skin tones, a hijabi wearing model, tattooed bodies, LGBTQ* relationships, and a brand rejecting gender norms. However, those left out of the campaign are those so often left out of campaigns claiming to be diverse. A curvy model who I would hazard to guess is around a size 14-16, does not mean plus size bodies are included. No visibly disabled adults feature in the campaign. Thin, abled bodies are the standard, and this campaign features them in abundance.

The kids video is FAR superior, featuring a range of adorable kids, two of whom are visibly disabled. It is delightful and for children to be able to see themselves in this advert must be awesome for them. I wish I could say the same about the adult campaign!

#LabelsAreForClothes is so close in terms of who it features, and yet so far. It seems almost lazy to have excluded sizes they already make for a campaign they claim is diverse, and to focus on thin abled bodies.

The other major issue I have with this campaign is well…. the whole campaign concept. In an ideal world, labels wouldn’t matter, but for so many they can provide comfort and help them feet others who identify in the same ways they do. For a teen struggling to find their place in the world, finding the label of non-bindary, or transgender, can open them up to a whole world that they suddenly realise that they fit in. For anyone who falls outside of societies norms, labels can be everything.

‘when you say, “what are all these silly words–“homosexual”, “bisexual”, “transgender”, basically what you’re saying is “My personal social and psychological experience and needs have no use for these distinctions.’ (Source Patheos 2014)

I also asked fellow She Might Be writer Shona Cobb for some words on the campaign, as a disabled rights activist.

‘I’ve lost count of how many times in the past year I’ve seen brands try and get diversity right but managing to get it wrong in so many ways, and whilst I see many applauding this campaign, for me it displays as another failed attempt to be inclusive.

At first glance the campaign appeared to be great, with disabled models from Zebedee Management (an agency that represents a wide range of disabled models) popping up on my Instagram feed wearing the items from the range, I figured if that many disabled people were endorsing it then it could only be a good thing! Further research into it had me changing my opinion completely though. This campaign and range is all about ditching labels but for many people labels are helpful, a mark of identity and a signal of the discrimination that many face as a result of their identity. Removing those labels removes all of that.

Labels to many aren’t bad things, I embrace being a bixsexual disabled woman and have no problem being referred to by my identity. It’s central to my being but also a signal of the discrimination I face as a result. Some seem to think that removing labels makes us all equal but not referring to me as disabled does not magically remove the barriers society put in my place because I am disabled.

Whilst I applaud River Island for using diverse models, including some disabled child models, I feel they have completely missed the mark with this campaign, like many brands before them have also.’

Another day, another brand launching a campaign that is problematic and fails to be truly diverse despite what it claims.

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